A 14-count indictment has been unsealed in Knoxville that charges seven individuals for their roles in a Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization (RICO) and conspiracy to distribute and dispense oxycodone, oxymorphone and morphine.
The indictment says the opioids were distributed "outside the scope of professional practice and not for a legitimate medical purpose and resulted in deaths.
Charges also related to "conspiracy to defraud the United States through the solicitation and receipt of illegal healthcare kickbacks, and money laundering."
Individuals charged include Luca Sartini, 58, of Rome, Italy, and Miami; Luigi Palma, aka Jimmy Palma, 51, of Rome, Italy, and Miami; Benjamin Rodriguez, 42, of Delray Beach, Florida; Sylvia Hofstetter, 53, of Knoxville; Courtney Newman, 42, of Knoxville; Cynthia Clemons, 45, of Knoxville; and, Holli Womack aka Holli Carmichael, 44, of Knoxville.
All defendants are accused of being responsible for the distribution of quantities of oxycodone, oxymorphone and morphine sufficient to generate clinic revenue of at least $21 million.
Italian authorities on Friday arrested Sartini and Palma in the Rome, Italy-area. The United States is seeking extradition. Rodriguez is set to self-surrender. All other defendants were previously charged in prior indictments.
Announcement of these charges and the superseding indictment were made by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Acting Assistant Attorney General John P.
Cronan of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney J. Douglas Overbey of the Eastern District of Tennessee and Special Agent in Charge Renae M. McDermott of the FBI’s Knoxville Division.
Attorney General Sessions said, “Throughout this country, and certainly in Tennessee and Florida, the illegal and unconscionable mass-distribution of prescription opioids through the operation of illegal pain clinics has taken a heavy toll on our citizens, families and communities. This sort of profiteering effectively trades human lives for financial riches. The U.S. Department of Justice is determined to stamp out the operation of illegal pain clinics by all legal means, including finding and arresting those responsible wherever they may be in the world.”
“The Eastern District of Tennessee has been at the forefront in the battle against illegal pain clinics and mass-prescribing of opioids for years,” said U.S. Attorney Overbey. “Now, under the leadership of Attorney General Sessions, additional resources have been made available through recent Department of Justice initiatives, including the Opioid Fraud and Abuse Task Force. This latest indictment is a real and tangible result of all of those combined efforts. The citizens of East Tennessee can be assured that we are committed to ridding our district of illegal pill mills.”
Agencies involved in this investigation include the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Tennessee; Criminal Division’s Organized Crime and Gang Section; FBI High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA), which is comprised of investigators assigned to the task force by the Loudon County Sheriff’s Office, Knoxville Police Department, Blount County Sheriff’s Office, Roane County Sheriff’s Office, Harriman Police Department and Clinton Police Department. Other agencies that provided invaluable assistance include the Rome Attaché of the Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs; FBI’s liaison in Rome; the FBI Miami Health Care Fraud Strike Force; Hollywood, Florida Police Department; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; Tennessee Department of Health; and DEA’s Knoxville Diversion Group. The Department of Justice extends its gratitude to Interpol and the Italian Financial Police (Guardia di Finanza) for their assistance in locating and apprehending the defendants.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Tracy L. Stone and Anne-Marie Svolto of the Eastern District of Tennessee, and Trial Attorney Kelly Pearson of the Criminal Division’s Organized Crime and Gang Section represent the United States.
Officials said, "In light of the nationwide opioid epidemic which led to the declaration of a public health emergency by the Acting Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services on October 26, 2017, this superseding indictment represents just the latest in a series of federal efforts in the Eastern District of Tennessee meant to combat the scourge of prescription opioids."
To date, as a result of this investigation, approximately 30 narcotics traffickers have been charged and convicted federally, and approximately 80 to 90 smaller narcotic distributers have also been charged and convicted. Today’s superseding indictment is among 35 related indictments charging approximately 140 individuals, including medical providers who worked at the pill mills, with various crimes.