Friday, March 03, 2017

TOP STORY >> Doctor pleads guilty

Dr. Richard Duane Johns, 51, of Little Rock pleaded guilty Thursday to conspiracy to distribute oxycodone, a powerful and highly-addictive painkiller.

He illegally distributed at least 39,000 pills with a street value of more than $1 million.

He sold phony prescriptions for $500 each to patients he never examined and in many cases never met.

Lonoke County sheriff’s deputies began the investigation after a Cabot-area man fatally overdosed in 2014.

Johns will be sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge Brian S. Miller at a later date. He could get up to 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine and three years of probation. He remains in custody because he’s facing a long sentence.

Johns was initially charged with 18 others in a federal indictment in September 2015.

As part of the plea agreement, Johns agreed to forfeit $155,620 in proceeds from the conspiracy and a Ford F-250 truck that facilitated the conspiracy.

According to the plea agreement, he could forfeit more money that he made during the conspiracy.

Christopher R. Thyer, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District, said, “Dr. Johns, while purporting to be a health-care professional, is nothing more than a common drug dealer. With opioid abuse continuing to kill at alarming rates, and an opioid epidemic sweeping across the country, the fact that doctors sworn to help people are contributing to the problem is unconscionable.”

The doctor’s drug operation was primarily conducted in Lonoke, White and Pulaski counties.

In May 2015, the Lonoke County Sheriff’s Office took Johns into custody charging him with 187 counts of violating the Arkansas controlled substances act, a class C state felony.

Lonoke County Sheriff John Staley said, “I am proud of the team work and happy we were able to put a stop to this. The doctor was a dope dealer. It is very sad that many of his patients trusted him and needed him, but he became greedy and is responsible for many ruined lives.”

The federal indictment later charged Johns and 18 others with conspiring to distribute oxycodone.

The investigation began in November 2014 when Lonoke County Sheriff’s detectives responded to an opioid overdose death of an individual outside Cabot. The sheriff’s office asked the DEA to help determine the source of the oxycodone.

The investigation led to 187 fraudulent prescriptions for oxycodone written by Johns since July 2014 in Lonoke County alone.

Thirty-eight people associated with Johns were charged in Lonoke County Circuit Court with violating the state’s controlled substances act. To date, 17 have already pleaded guilty.

“This was a tremendous effort by all our agencies working together to get a drug dealing doctor off the streets before even more people were hurt,” Lonoke County Prosecutor Chuck Graham said.

In White County Circuit Court, 15 people connected to the doctor were charged with various drug crimes, and all of them have pleaded guily.

The DEA determined that Johns was part of a distribution network in which he would write oxycodone prescriptions to co-conspirators who would bring names and dates of birth to Johns with the intent of buying a prescription for oxycodone.

Prescriptions were filled at local pharmacies, and the oxycodone pills sold illegally for about $30 each.

Several area residents were arrested in the case for conspiracy to distribute schedule II controlled substances, including David Scroggins, 58, Marissa Scroggins, 31, Christopher Scroggins, 38, and Donna Cearns, 28, all of Cabot; Vanessa Byrd, 29, and Randy Byrd, 28, both of Ward; and Christine Zeman, 46, of Lonoke.