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Judge orders Tampa police to return cash seized from pain clinic

TAMPA — Tampa police suspected the pain clinic on Dale Mabry Highway was operating illegally, doling out prescriptions to those without a medical need.

So officers obtained a search warrant last month and raided the clinic belonging to 1st Medical Group LLC, seizing more than $220,000 from the business and two people associated with it.

Now a Hillsborough Circuit Court judge says the Tampa Police Department must give it all back.

According to an order filed by Judge Robert Foster Jr. in court last week, there is no evidence that the money seized was related to any criminal activity or that the clinic was operating illegally.

During the raid, police found $5,050 in the clinic's safe, $73,650 in a backpack in the trunk of clinic manager Jorge Gonzalez-Betancourt's car, and $8,960 in a plastic bag also in the trunk, the order said.

The police then took Gonzalez-Betancourt's keys to his home in Odessa and entered without permission or a search warrant, the order said. Police found a piece of luggage containing cash in the closet of Gonzalez-Betancourt's wife, Michele Gonzalez-Betancourt. They obtained a search warrant and determined it contained more than $130,000, which they seized, the order said.

After the raid, police arrested Jorge Gonzalez-Betancourt and charged him with money laundering. He was later released on $15,000 bond.

"There was no basis for any of this," said Michael Laurato, an attorney for the clinic and Michele Gonzalez-Betancourt.

The clinic, its doctors and the Gonzalez-Betancourts have been smeared by the police department, Laurato said.

The clinic, at 2314 N Dale Mabry Highway, has been closed since the July 26 raid, he said, when police also seized the business' records and patient files.

According to the court order, the police allege the clinic operates "to divert controlled substances such as Xanax, oxycodone and OxyContin toward illegal uses by writing prescriptions for these drugs which have no sound basis in medical practice."

Police argued a search of the clinic was appropriate because as many as 100 patients visited the clinic daily, many from out of state, and many paid in cash, the order said. The police also argued that the clinic inappropriately used prescription pads with prefilled-out drug information.

In his order, Judge Foster wrote that none of these acts constituted illegal activity. The prescription pads contained only the name of drugs and not the dosage or the number of pills, he wrote.

And the clinic also is staffed with four doctors licensed to prescribe pain medications who are overseen by a fellowship physician. The clinic uses urine screenings to ensure patients are not abusing the drugs, he wrote.

The Tampa Police Department is still investigating the case and will determine whether to appeal the judge's order, said Laura McElroy, a spokeswoman for the department.

Judge orders Tampa police to return cash seized from pain clinic 08/30/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 31, 2010 12:29am]
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