Ex-sheriff on medical pros busted in opioid ring: ‘It’s very frustrating’

Pharmacists named in a federal opioid prescription drug takedown this week allegedly dispensed more than 1.75 million pills from a Dayton pharmacy between 2015 and 2017 — a time when overdose deaths surged to record levels in Montgomery County.

Ismail Abuhanieh, Mahmoud Rifai and Yohannes Tinsae are all licensed pharmacists associated with Dayton Pharmacy, 301 W. First St., and now charged by federal authorities with running a “pill mill” that unlawfully obtained and distributed controlled drugs.

FIRST REPORT: Feds on Dayton clinic, pharmacy: 1.75 million pills in 2 years

The pharmacists — and former physician Morris Brown, who owns the building and practiced there — were among more than 50 so-called “white-coated drug dealers,” which included doctors, pharmacists and nurse practitioners indicted this week with others in the largest prescription opioid crackdown in U.S. history.

“We are spending millions of dollars combating the problem, and we have medical professionals continuing the problem,” said state Rep. Phil Plummer, R-Butler Twp., who was sheriff when the most people in a single year — 566 — died of overdoses in 2017.

“It’s very frustrating,” Plummer said.

Mahmoud Elmiari, who was manager of Dayton Pharmacy, was also charged, according to court records.

Abuhanieh and Rifai were named defendants in a 2016 federal lawsuit in which an employee of Dayton Pharmacy claimed she regularly worked 50- and 65-hour weeks and wasn’t paid overtime.

Documents in that case, which was settled, show the pair operated at least six pharmacies in three states. In addition to Dayton Pharmacy, they ran Pharmacy One at 201 N. Yellow Springs St. in Springfield, two Quick Pharmacy locations in Phoenix, Ariz., and two Sav Max Pharmacy locations in Detroit.

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Along with Brown, whose medical office was in the same space, the four operating the pharmacy conspired to acquire and sell controlled substances through “misrepresentation, fraud, forgery, deception and subterfuge” and enrich themselves in the process, according to the indictment.

Abuhanieh, 50, of Phoenix, Ariz., Rifai, 49, of Dearborn, Mich., and Tinsae, 47, of Beavercreek, are all listed as pharmacists by Ohio’s Board of Pharmacy holding licenses effective through September. Elmiari, 43, resides in Bellbrook, public records show.

When reached by phone Thursday, Tinsae declined comment. Phone messages to other defendants were not returned.

Around August 2008, Rifai applied for and received a DEA registration for Dayton Pharmacy to dispense controlled substances, including Schedule II drugs, according to the indictment.

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The indictment claims Abuhanieh, Rifai and Elmiari opened bank accounts to fund different aspects of the alleged conspiracy.

One drug distributor, named Supplier A in a court document, refused in 2012 to continue taking the pharmacy’s orders, according to the indictment.

Then a second company refused, at which point the government claims Tinsae and others made false statements to the second supplier and subsequently to a third while trying to get controlled substances shipped to the pharmacy in 2016 and 2017.

While Brown wrote prescriptions and sent them next door to Dayton Pharmacy for filling, the pharmacy also paid Brown approximately $5,000 per month “disguised as ‘rent’ to allow them to continue to operate the pharmacy,” reads the indictment.

“That doctor allegedly operated a pill mill and funneled prescriptions to the pharmacy housed in his waiting room,” said U.S. Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski when helping announce the results of the five-state federal law enforcement operation during a news conference Wednesday in Cincinnati.

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Brown continued prescribing opioids “even after learning that some of his patients had experienced overdoses, and in some cases, deaths,” the indictment read.

Brown, 71, a Centerville resident, surrendered his medical license permanently last year.

Business filings with the Ohio Secretary of State show Dayton Pharmacy’s parent company, Haya, LLC, dissolved in May, 2018.

More than once as sheriff, Plummer said he’d help take down a pill mill only to see another appear.

“I think it turns out to be greed,” he said. “It’s easy money for them.”

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