PHENIX CITY, AL (WTVM) – A Phenix City doctor has pled guilty to one count of conspiring to unlawfully distribute a controlled substance through the operation of a "pill mill" and money laundering on Monday.
Dr. Robert M. Ritchea, 54, of LaGrange, GA 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.
"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.