Newsbrief: Feds Use RICO Against Virginia Oxycontin Doctor 5/31/02

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Roanoke, VA, Dr. Cecil Byron Knox, his nurse, and two office workers have been indicted by a federal grand jury under the direction of US Attorney John Brownlee for violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act in an apparent escalation of the federal government's war on pain management specialists, whom the feds routinely accuse of operating pill factories. Knox, who operated the Second Street Southwest Clinic in Roanoke, and his employees, had already been indicted in February for conspiring to illegally distribute the high-powered opioid painkiller Oxycontin and with prescribing the drug for no legitimate medical reason.

In a typical move, US Attorney Brownlee obfuscated the nature of the feds's problem with Dr. Knox by accusing him of "health care fraud," a technically correct but misleading charge. The fraud of which Dr. Knox is accused is the act of prescribing the Oxycontin in a matter which the federal government deems unlawful.

Dozens of doctors around the country have been charged in Oxycontin-related indictments and five were convicted in Southwest Virginia alone last year. But the RICO indictment is a first, marking a significant expansion of the federal war on Oxy docs. The statute was originally designed to prosecute complex organized crime cases, but its use has broadened over the years. RICO is a powerful tool in prosecutors' hands. Under the RICO charges, Dr. Knox faces life in prison and fines as high as $27 million. His nurse faces life and a possible $26 million fine. The two office employees are looking at 95 years and 105 years, along with fines of $2.5 million.

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