Federal agents are investigating a multi-state drug sting that brought them right to the door of a local doctor’s office.
Drug Enforcement Administration agents raided the offices of Dr. Robert Ritchea’s Medical Clinic off Riverchase Drive in Phenix City.
News 3 was the only local reporter on the scene when the search went down. The DEA tells News 3 that today’s raid was part of a crackdown on what they call “pill mills” in four Southern states, including Alabama.
A viewer gave us a tip about the search to Dr. Ritchea’s office earlier Wednesday morning.
Several DEA agents could be seen going in and out of the doctor’s office along with Russell County Sheriff’s deputies.
Federal prosecutors say it’s all part of “Operation Pilluted” launched last summer by its drug diversion unit lead by DEA agent Keith Brown. The operation’s goal is to crackdown on the illegal sale of painkillers like Oxycodone and Hydrocodone.
The sting is part of a 15-month roundup which involves nearly 1,000 law enforcement officers. So far, agents have arrested at least 280 people.
U.S. Attorney Chris Thyer says the operation has been conducted all across the Southeast.
“Almost a year ago, Special Agent in Charge Brown convened a meeting in New Orleans with various DEA components and the United States Attorneys in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama,” Thyer says. “The purpose of that meeting was to discuss a regionalized approach to the illicit pharmaceutical problem that is occurring across our country.
During the execution of the search warrant, an unidentified man approached officers. Officials found that the man was carrying drug paraphernalia. Deputies took the man into custody.
However, Russell County Sheriff Heath Taylor says the man was not involved in the search sting. He was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Clark Morris, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s office in Montgomery, says Dr. Ritchea has not been charged nor has he been summoned to appear in court. She confirmed that the search of his office was connected to the four state sting.
Ritchea has had previous trouble with the law. Back in 2012, the Justice Department announced that it had reached a settlement with Ritchea to resolve allegations that he submitted more than $2 million in false or fraudulent medicare claims.
As part of the deal, Ritchea agreed not to submit any medicare claims for seven years. He was also ordered to pay the government the proceeds from the sale of of his second home along with a $5,000 fine.