COLUMBUS, Ohio – A pharmacist facing nearly 200 counts of illegally disbursing prescription painkillers says the government can't prove its case against him, even as he was hit Thursday with additional charges of filing false tax returns.
Federal prosecutors said in court filings that Harold Fletcher underreported how much money he made in 2005 and 2006 at his pharmacy on the east side of downtown Columbus. The government said Fletcher brought in more than the $1.8 million he reported in 2005 and the $1.9 million he reported in 2006.
His attorney, Bradley Barbin, declined to comment Thursday. He has called the 229-count indictment against Fletcher overkill.
In court filings Wednesday, Barbin said there's no evidence Fletcher knew that a physician who wrote pain prescriptions didn't have legitimate reasons for each one.
The government alleges Fletcher conspired with Dr. Paul Volkman in 2005 and 2006 to illegally dispense several powerful painkillers.
Volkman faces trial next year on charges of helping distribute millions of highly addictive pills that may have led to more than a dozen deaths.
But there's no proof Fletcher "should have known that Dr. Volkman was not what he claimed to be, a chronic-pain specialist," Barbin wrote in a court filing.
Fletcher wants U.S. District Court Judge Michael Watson to prevent federal prosecutors from using phrases such as "pill mill," ''lethal cocktail" and "prescription drug epidemic" in court proceedings. Those phrases all appear in the indictment against Volkman, who worked out of southern Ohio clinics in Portsmouth and South Point and was arrested in 2007 in Chicago, where he had a home.
Pill mills are drugs-on-demand clinics where patients typically pay cash for prescriptions for painkillers. In some cases, the clinics also dispense the pills.
Such pill mills are common in Scioto County, in southern Ohio, where Volkman practiced. Health officials say nine of every 10 drug overdoses in Scioto County are caused by prescription drugs, mostly painkillers.
The indictment against Fletcher filed in September alleged he knowingly filled prescriptions for painkillers such as oxycodone he knew were not for legitimate medical purposes.
The indictment also charged Fletcher with money laundering and splitting up large deposits to avoid U.S. Department of the Treasury reporting requirements.
Prescription painkiller abuse is now the leading cause of accidental death in Ohio, surpassing traffic accidents.
Volkman goes on trial in March. His daughter has said his family believes in his innocence because he was vigilant about conducting drug tests on his patients to help determine if they were properly taking their medications or abusing them. His attorney didn't immediately return a telephone message left Thursday.