Feds say Garden City Clinic was Base for pill mill operation

SAVANNAH, GA –  A Garden City, Ga., clinic owner and CEO has been indicted for operating a clinic that provided a base from which a notorious “pill mill” doctor dispensed massive amounts of controlled substances.

In a five-count indictment returned by a U.S. District Court grand jury, Jamesetta Whipple-Duncan, 58, of Savannah, is charged with Maintaining a Drug-Involved Premises; Solicitation and Receipt of Kickbacks; False Statements in a Loan and Credit Application; Falsification of Records; and False Statements, said Bobby L. Christine, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia. The charges carry a possible sentence upon conviction of up to 30 years in prison, along with substantial financial penalties and up to four years of supervised release.

There is no parole in the federal system.

“The fight against the opioid addiction crisis must attack the full illegal supply pipeline, from street-corner dealers, to white-coated prescribers, to enabling businesses providing storefront space,” said U.S. Attorney Christine. “With our law enforcement partners, we will bring unrelenting pressure to every avenue that fuels the illegal drug trade.”

As described in court documents and testimony, Whipple-Duncan, as owner of the now-closed Georgia Laboratory Diagnostics LLC, in Garden City, Ga., was an employer of Dr. Frank Bynes Jr., 69, of Savannah, who was sentenced in February 2020 to 240 months in prison and ordered to pay $615,145 in restitution to Medicare, Medicaid and Tricare after being found guilty by a federal jury on 13 counts of Unlawful Dispensation of Controlled Substances and three counts of Health Care Fraud.

As noted in the indictment, from approximately January 2017 to September 2017, Whipple-Duncan “profited significantly from this clinic, both in the form of cash from many addicted patients and kickbacks paid to Whipple-Duncan from a laboratory that processed the clinic’s urine tests. Whipple-Duncan used the proceeds of the pill mill for her own use and enjoyment; yet, when Whipple-Duncan filed for bankruptcy protections shortly after the pill mill was shut down, Whipple-Duncan concealed the fact (that) she received the pill mill income and kickbacks she received, while making a series of false statements to the United States and others.”

With Bynes prescribing thousands of controlled substances, including the “Holy Trinity” drug cocktail favored by opioid addicts, Whipple-Duncan and Georgia Diagnostics Laboratory accepted only cash for office visits and refused to accept insurance, requiring Bynes’ patients to pay hundreds of dollars per visit – yet facilitated payments from the patients’ health care benefit programs for prescriptions and lab tests. Whipple-Duncan “obtained hundreds of thousands of dollars” as part of the clinic’s proceeds, according to the indictment.

The indictment also alleges that Whipple-Duncan solicited and received kickbacks by falsely claiming to be an employee of an Oklahoma laboratory that paid Whipple-Duncan to submit referrals for urine tests that the laboratory then billed to Medicare and Georgia Medicaid for nearly $500,000.

Regarding the financial crimes counts, the indictment alleges that on Sept. 27, 2017, Whipple-Duncan applied for and later received a $75,000 loan from a Savannah-based credit union, claiming income of “$10,000 monthly” from Georgia Diagnostic Laboratory despite knowing that the clinic already had been shut down following the execution of a federal search warrant. Whipple-Duncan later filed for federal bankruptcy protection, claiming that during that same period her income was $13,262 – despite her prior claims of making “$10,000 monthly” from Georgia Diagnostic Laboratory.

“In this case, the dispensing of addictive prescription pain medication (often-times opiate-based) under the guise of a doctor’s care, was not about the good of the community or an individual’s specific health needs; it was about the alleged greed of a clinic owner and CEO,” said Robert J. Murphy, Special Agent in Charge of the DEA’s Atlanta Field Division. “This clinic owner was indicted for soliciting kickbacks and related financial crimes. DEA and its law enforcement partners will continue to investigate allegations of misconduct by clinic owners.  If the allegations are found to be true, these unlawful acts fuel our country’s raging opioid epidemic.”

“The OIG will continue to pursue cases against those who fraudulently profit from the nation’s opioid epidemic,” said Derrick L. Jackson, Special Agent in Charge for the Office of Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS-OIG). “Together with our law enforcement partners, we will ensure that society’s most vulnerable are protected from such nefarious schemes.”

“After allegedly profiting from the illegal dispensation of large amounts of controlled substances, Whipple-Duncan is accused of obtaining loans based on lies,” said Chris Hacker, Special Agent in Charge of FBI Atlanta. “The FBI is proud to work with our law enforcement partners to bring the full extent of the law to bear on such alleged illegal actions.”

“Jamesetta Whipple-Duncan is essentially charged with hiding behind what appeared to be a legitimate medical business in order to profit off of the illegal distribution of poisonous drugs by Dr. Bynes.  The indictment also alleges Whipple-Duncan participated in various forms of fraudulent activity involving the clinic she owned,” said Michael G. Sarhatt, Director of the Chatham-Savannah Counter Narcotics Team.  “The type of behavior Whipple-Duncan has been accused of violates the trust of our citizens and CNT is committed to investigating those who take advantage of our community in this fashion.  I am thankful for the cooperation of our law enforcement partners in investigating all aspects of this case, as well as the efforts of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in prosecuting the case.”

Criminal indictments contain only charges; defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

The case is being investigated by the DEA, HHS-OIG, the FBI, the Georgia Medicaid Control Fraud Unit, and CNT, and prosecuted for the United States by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Porter.