Alton doctor indicted on federal charges
EAST ST. LOUIS (MCT) — A federal grand jury returned a 15-count indictment Thursday against the physician who operates the Walk In Clinic on East Broadway in Alton, charging him with illegally distributing controlled substances, among other offenses.
The grand jury in U.S. District Court in East St. Louis handed down the indictment naming Dr. Viwathna Bhuthimethee, 66, of Alton, the operator of the Walk In Clinic, 654 E. Broadway, said U.S. Attorney Stephen R. Wigginton of the Southern District of Illinois.
The indictment alleges that, for most patients, Bhuthimethee did not operate a legitimate medical practice, but instead was engaged in a scheme to distribute controlled substances illegally, thereby defrauding health care benefit programs - namely, Illinois Medicaid - by running what was in essence a prescription service for drug addicts, commonly known as a "pill mill," Wigginton said.
Bhuthimethee is charged with:
- health care fraud in Count 1, which carries penalties of a maximum of 10 years' imprisonment, a maximum fine of $250,000, a maximum of three years of supervised release and a $100 special assessment;
- illegal distribution of a Schedule III controlled substance (hydrocodone) in Counts 2 through 9, which carries penalties of a maximum of 10 years' imprisonment, a maximum fine of $500,000, no less than two years of supervised release and a $100 special assessment;
- and illegal distribution of a Schedule IV controlled substance (Xanax) in Counts 10 through 15, which carries penalties of a maximum of five years' imprisonment, a maximum fine of $250,000, one year of supervised release and a $100 special assessment.
Alton Police Chief David Hayes said he had expected serious charges to be filed against Bhuthimethee.
"We knew this was coming," Hayes said. "We knew a federal investigation had been under way for what could be as many as two years now. We first opened up the case, and we worked with the federal government on the case. I'm happy to see that the grand jury has found what we believed we knew all along."
In 2010, Bhuthimethee voluntarily gave up a registration certification that had given him the authority to prescribe narcotic drugs.
"We're glad that this may actually shut him down completely," Hayes said about Thursday's indictment. "Before, when he was under investigation, he didn't have a license any longer to dispense controlled substances, but he was still allowed to practice. This, in all probability, will put him out of business."
Wigginton said the case was investigated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services-Office of Inspector General, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, as well as by the Illinois State Police, Medicaid Fraud Control Bureau, the Alton Police Department and the Madison County Coroner's Office.
In 2010, Hayes told The Telegraph his department had been informed by confidential sources that the doctor allegedly was prescribing narcotic drugs to "chemically dependent people." Alton police enlisted the help of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, the FBI and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Authorities kept the office under surveillance and obtained information from other confidential sources, Hayes said.
On July 13, 2010, Alton police, along with members of the DEA, FBI and the DHHS, went to the Walk In Clinic and met with Bhuthimethee, who voluntarily relinquished his DEA registration that allowed him to prescribe controlled substances to his patients.
Bhuthimethee had a previous scrape with state authorities in which the Illinois Department of Public Aid expelled him from the public aid program.
In 1995, the Public Aid Department cited Bhuthimethee for failing to order Pap tests for women on six of the 17 patients reviewed by the department.
However, the doctor filed a lawsuit seeking administrative review, and that decision was reversed in 1997.
The doctor's office also has been cited by the city for upkeep of the building. One citation for unsanitary conditions in the rear of the building was dropped.