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Doctor wants cash, records returned after last year's raid on Pinellas Park clinic

PINELLAS PARK — The raid on a clinic in October was supposed to be a police crackdown on illegal "pill mills," which have thrived in the ongoing prescription drug abuse epidemic.

Officers seized more than $13,000, a Toshiba laptop, patient records and other items from the Dollar Clinic on Park Boulevard and shut the clinic down.

But then, nothing.

Four months after the raid on the clinic, the doctor who ran it, Jacinta Gillis, still has not been charged with a crime.

So she has filed a lawsuit that says, more or less: give me my stuff back.

And the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office has responded with its own court papers that say, more or less: not so fast.

Gillis' attorney, Leslie Sammis, says there are limits to what the government can take away from private citizens, even those suspected of crimes. She argues that the government overstepped its bounds by seizing items from the Pinellas Park clinic, and more from another clinic and a home in Lee County.

Miami criminal defense lawyer Bob Amsel said police can seize evidence of a crime, such as a handgun suspected of being a murder weapon. These generally don't require forfeiture proceedings. But eventually, if no criminal charges are filed, those items should be returned.

Robert Batey, a professor at the Stetson University College of Law, said there is case law showing people can file motions seeking the return of such items. But the government can keep the evidence if it has a good-faith intention to use it while prosecuting a criminal case.

Police also can seize ill-gotten gains, like a fancy Mercedes-Benz that was bought with drug money, even if the car is not actually evidence in the criminal case. A seizure like this would normally require the government to file forfeiture proceedings.

Sammis said there's something wrong with how Gillis has been treated. There is still no indication of criminal charges against the doctor, she said, and Pinellas officials never filed forfeiture proceedings, which they should have done within 45 days.

However, the Sheriff's Office has said in court papers that this is not a forfeiture proceeding. The agency says a judge issued a search warrant so authorities could seek evidence of crimes such as sale and delivery of drugs; illegally writing a prescription; money laundering; and conspiracy.

An assistant statewide prosecutor, Michael Schmid, said in an affidavit that authorities tracked the cash flowing in and out of Gillis' Pinellas Park and Lee County clinics. She deposited $1.3 million in cash in seven bank accounts between December 2008 and September 2010, and appears to pay employees in cash, Schmid said. He said this could be money laundering.

But Sammis refers to Gillis as "an upstanding member of society who has never been convicted of a crime" and as "an educated medical professional and business owner."

Sammis said since filing the lawsuit, some items have been returned, but others have not. She also said Gillis did not wish to comment.

However, Gillis previously talked to a Fort Myers television station about allegations that she was running a pill mill and said: "I've never been near any of these illegal activities. The only things I have are my practices, which are legit. I've been victimized by the war against drugs."

The Sheriff's Office says the investigation is continuing.

Curtis Krueger can be reached at (727) 893-8232 or ckrueger@sptimes.com.

Doctor wants cash, records returned after last year's raid on Pinellas Park clinic 02/20/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 23, 2011 11:13pm]
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