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Wesley Chapel clinic's records lead to 10 arrests in pill mill investigation

The Craigslist ad seemed promising. The assets of a Wesley Chapel urgent care clinic were for sale. Dr. Michael Duchesneau snapped them up late last year to help him expand a struggling Lakeland clinic he had recently taken over.

He said he got a couple of flat screen televisions and "nice" desks and chairs from the defunct Wesley Chapel Medical Group. He also got mounds of mail and patient records.

What he didn't expect from the patient lists were a group of doctor shoppers who were getting prescriptions for narcotics such as oxycodone. He turned over suspicious patient records to authorities, who have arrested at least 10 patients of the Wesley Chapel clinic since last month.

"It was definitely a pill mill," said Dr. Michael Duchesneau, whose company co-owns and manages North Lakeland Polyclinic on U.S. 98. He said his clinic specializes in legitimate pain management, weight loss and detoxification.

That wasn't the picture that Wesley Chapel Medical Group owner Lorenzo Jermaine Mathis painted in November, when the St. Petersburg Times first inquired about his clinic.

"We are not one of the little pill mills," said Mathis, who described his operation as an urgent care clinic. "We're no different than the (walk-in clinic on Bruce B. Downs Boulevard). We're a legal business."

The Times looked into Wesley Chapel Medical Group after neighbors observed cars with out-of-state license plates dropping off groups of patients at the clinic off State Road 56. A security guard and surveillance cameras guarded the property.

Wesley Chapel Medical Group began operating after county commissioners banned any new pain management clinics from opening.

Existing clinics were allowed to remain but required to register with the county and undergo inspections.

But Mathis said the tighter restrictions on pain management clinics didn't apply to him, because he was running an urgent care clinic. And because he accepted cash only — not private insurance or Medicare or Medicaid — his clinic did not have to be licensed by the state, which typically won't allow a felon to run such a facility.

Mathis, a felon with 15 arrests since 1992, opened the Wesley Chapel clinic after Hillsborough County officials ordered him to shut down his NBC Pain Clinic in Tampa.

Duchesneau, whose last name is pronounced Dew-SHAY-no, also found records related to NBC when he purchased the Wesley Chapel clinic's assets.

"There was really no separation between the two," he said.

When Duchesneau began working at the Lakeland clinic a few weeks ago, a number of former Wesley Chapel patients showed up seeking drugs.

He and his investigators ran background checks and found many of them had received drugs from various places in short times.

"There were a lot of doctor shoppers," he said.

Duchesneau found no evidence Mathis' clinic was dispensing drugs, but the law defines an establishment as a pain clinic if at least half its patients receive prescriptions for certain narcotics such as oxycodone.

Duchesneau turned over the information to law enforcement. Lakeland police confirmed they have arrested at least 10 of Mathis' former patients.

"I want to turn these dirty clinics clean," said Duchesneau, 49, a former Volusia County paramedic who earned his medical degree from the University of South Florida in 1996. He also opened two other medical clinics in the area.

"He's really trying to work with police," said Sgt. Terri Smith, spokeswoman for the Lakeland Police Department. She said he has also turned over fake MRIs and phony medical reports. "He seems genuinely focused on running a legitimate facility."

Duchesneau's Lakeland clinic is in a strip mall that includes a Dairy Queen, a barber shop and a secondhand bookstore.

Records show it is licensed by the state agency that regulates hospitals.

Duchesneau, known as "Dr. Mike," sees patients and prescribes drugs when needed. He requires patients to bring in pharmacy profiles and employs investigators to help spot those who are feeding an addiction or buying drugs to resell.

"If it's a kid, I want to see him in rehab," he said. "If it's a gang I want to see them go to jail."

In addition to the patient records he obtained from the Wesley Chapel Medical Group, Duchesneau found a $270 advertising bill from the Times and an unopened Dec. 8 letter from Pasco County giving Mathis seven days to comply with county pain clinic rules or shut down.

As a result of buying the defunct clinic's assets, Duchesneau also met Jose Lugo, the former security guard at the Wesley Chapel clinic.

Duchesneau decided he was worth keeping. Lugo ditched the black "Security" T-shirt for regular clothes, and now works at the front door of the Lakeland clinic.

As a greeter.

Wesley Chapel clinic's records lead to 10 arrests in pill mill investigation 02/19/11 [Last modified: Saturday, February 19, 2011 12:37pm]
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