Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Middle District of Alabama
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tuesday, January 31, 2017
Phenix City Doctor Pleads Guilty to Participating in a Drug Distribution Conspiracy and Money Laundering
Montgomery, Ala. – On Monday, January 30, 2017, Dr. Robert M. Ritchea, 54, of LaGrange, Georgia, pled guilty to one count of conspiring to unlawfully distribute a controlled substance through the operation of a “pill mill” and money laundering, announced United States Attorney George L. Beck, Jr. A “pill mill” is a medical clinic created to dispense controlled substances inappropriately, unlawfully, and for non-medical reasons.
According to court documents, Dr. Ritchea operated a family medical practice in Phenix City, Alabama. At that practice, Dr. Ritchea wrote prescriptions for Schedule II controlled substances, including oxycodone, hydrocodone, methadone, and hydromorphone, knowing that his patients did not actually need the drugs prescribed. Dr. Ritchea laundered the proceeds of his unlawful drug dealing by purchasing Schedule II pain medications—specifically, hydromorphone and hydrocodone—directly from a drug manufacturer. Dr. Ritchea then distributed the pills directly out of his medical practice. This was necessary to keep his “pill mill” operational since many pharmacists in and around Phenix City refused to fill the illegitimate and unlawful prescriptions Dr. Ritchea wrote.
In the coming months, Chief United States District Judge W. Keith Watkins will sentence Dr. Ritchea. At sentencing, Dr. Ritchea faces maximum sentences of 20 years in prison on each count, as well as substantial monetary penalties.
“Prescription drug abuse is a scourge on communities across this district, this state, and this country,” stated United States Attorney Beck. “The unnecessary use of prescription drugs is often the first step towards opiate-dependency, the loss of work, the severing of relationships, and, in all too many cases, death. Rather than curing illness, Dr. Ritchea was at the forefront of promoting this epidemic. I am proud that my office is holding him accountable for the harm he has caused and the trust he has betrayed.”
“Dr. Ritchea abandoned his professional liability and moral compass when he decided to promote substance abuse,” stated Special Agent in Charge Veronica F. Hyman-Pillot of the Internal Revenue Service’s Criminal Investigations Division. “Today’s guilty plea ensures that he will be held fully responsible for his contribution to the ongoing drug epidemic sweeping through communities.”
“The abuse of prescription drugs is a serious problem in our communities’ said Drug Enforcement Administration Assistant Special Agent in Charge Bret Hamilton. “All too often, this abuse leads to addiction, shattered lives, and even death. For the health and safety of our citizens, the Drug Enforcement Administration and our federal, state, and local law enforcement partners will continue to target those who illegally distribute these dangerous drugs. We hope that this case will serve as a reminder to those in the medical profession who choose to illegally divert pharmaceuticals, that they will be held accountable for the harm they cause.”
This case was investigated by the following agencies: DEA’s Tactical Diversion Squad; the Internal Revenue Service’s Criminal Investigations Division; the FBI; the Opelika Police Department; the Chambers County Drug Task Force; the Auburn Police Department; the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA); the Russell County Sheriff’s Office; the Lawrence County Sheriff’s Office; the Alabama Board of Medical Examiners; and the Alabama State Board of Pharmacy.
Assistant United States Attorneys Jonathan S. Ross and R. Rand Neeley are prosecuting the case.