Frank Turturo and Bernice Turturo were arrested when their Pompano Beach, Florida pain clinic was raided by law enforcement officers earlier today. After a year long investigation by the Broward Sheriff’s Office, Frank Turturo and his wife Bernice Turturo are facing criminal charges for racketeering and prescription drug trafficking.
As a criminal defense attorney who has handled many prescription drug trafficking cases, I can tell you that the Turturo’s are facing very serious prison terms.
However, that does not mean their cases are indefensible.
Depending on the specific allegations contained in the indictment, the Turturo’s may be able to challenge their case at trial. For example, if the Turturo’s followed all laws regarding prescription writing and dispension, the question may come down to the legitimacy of their operation. If they ran a truly legitimate pain clinic, I am sure they will have a defense worth presenting to a jury.
However, if my past experience as a criminal defense attorney has taught me anything, I am sure the Turturo’s failed to properly follow all the regulatory and legal requirements placed on pain clinics, especially those imposed recently. Thus garnering the attention of law enforcement.
As we all know, Broward County has been the epicenter of the pain pill crisis.
In cases like these, law enforcement will typically send undercover investigators into a pain clinic to pose as “patients” even though there is nothing wrong with them. Using this ruse, investigators will try to to get pain pills using illegitimate means while exhibiting the red flags of illicit drug seeking behavior.
For example, they will try to get a prescription for roxycodone and xanax by complaining of back pain or general pain due to some accident. They will not provide medical records, but may provide a fake MRI.
These investigators count on the supposed pain doctors failure to properly examine them as patients. The assumption being that a real physical examination would reveal the absence of medical necessity that would justify the prescriptions for narcotic pain pills.
When a prescription is written in the absence of a medically accepted physical examination, the prescription can be considered illegitimate.
In the old days of the wild west pain clinics (as in a few years ago), illicit drug seekers would visit a pain clinic with an MRI they obtained somewhere else, claim they were in pain, and get prescriptions from doctors who spent no more than 3-5 minutes with them, if that.
Thorough physical examinations were almost never performed. Past medical records were rarely reviewed. Put simply, it was mostly a ruse to sell narcotics to drug addicts under the guise of a medical practice specializing in paliative care (pain management).
Unless you suffer from cancer, AIDS, or had a debilitating accident, odds are you an illicit drug seeker if you are trying to obtain medical care from a pain clinic.
Knowing this, law enforcement sends in its undercover investigators to mimic the drug seeking behavior of such addicts. When the supposed doctors fail to perform to standard, police know they have a case.
From there, regulators are sent in to evaluate the pain clinic’s operations to determine what other violations are being committed. This can include how the pain medication is stored, who has access to it, and accounting irregularities.
DEA regulators are especially interested in making sure that the pain clinic’s intake of pills match the number of prescriptions it writes. More often than you can imagine, pain clinics are unable to explain why they took delivery of more pain pills than they had dispensed or maintained in storage. Law enforcement looks for such discrepancies because they are indicative of black market drug sales or inept practices.
Either way, DEA regulators are able to make a case for the revocation of the responsible doctor’s DEA license. Without a DEA license, a doctor is unable to prescribe medication. While such revocations do not carry any criminal penalties, like a prison sentence, they do achieve the law enforcement objective of eliminating corrupt doctors who misuse their ability to prescribe narcotics by creating and feeding drug addicts.
To be perfectly frank, when pain clinic cases are prosecuted, the real defense work usually comes down to mitigating sentences. Ultimately, the name of the game is minimization of prison sentences.
Because these cases are so complex and involve multiple allegations that usually span a long period of time, it is very difficult to win these cases at trial.
Remember, to be successful at trial, a criminal defendant needs to beat every single count in the indictment, whereas the prosecutor needs to only win one.
Since the Turturo case is still under investigation and not all of the facts have been mae public, it is impossible to draw any concrete conclusions about what will happen or even if the Turturos have any real criminal liability.
Regardless, if I was Frank Turturo or Bernice Turturo, I would hire the most effective criminal defense lawyer I could afford. This is a very serious criminal matter and requires a very serious defense.