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Two doctors among those facing charges in Tampa pill mill crackdown

Wade Leath, the owner of JW Wellness, is arrested at his Tampa home Wednesday. Dr. Paul Awa of Oldsmar was also arrested in connection with his work at the clinic at 233 W Waters Ave. 

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

Wade Leath, the owner of JW Wellness, is arrested at his Tampa home Wednesday. Dr. Paul Awa of Oldsmar was also arrested in connection with his work at the clinic at 233 W Waters Ave. 

TAMPA — They set up shop in Hillsborough County, prescribing pain pills until deputies shut them down in March.

Within weeks, JW Wellness sprouted just blocks away in a new jurisdiction. Tampa police noticed.

Undercover officers posed as patients who didn't need pills but wanted them. They brought MRIs the officers say were obviously fraudulent. And they got enough evidence to execute a search warrant in August, confiscating 79 patient files.

The arrests came Wednesday.

The clinic's owner, Wade Leath, 37, was led from his Tampa house in handcuffs. In Thonotosassa, a doctor practicing at another clinic was arrested in connection with his work at JW Wellness, 233 W Waters Ave.

That doctor, Paul Awa, 59, of Oldsmar is licensed and has not been previously arrested in Florida, records show.

In all, eight people connected to JW Wellness were charged with conspiracy to commit racketeering. Seven of them were also charged with racketeering and conspiracy to traffic in a controlled substance.

Tampa Assistant Chief Marc Hamlin said the investigation took months because authorities have to prove a doctor prescribed the oxycodone and Xanax pills unnecessarily. It's not like arresting people selling cocaine or heroin, he said, which are illegal in all cases.

Meanwhile, authorities searched two other clinics in Hillsborough.

State officials took records from Main Street Medical, at 10802 Main St. in Thonotosassa, where Awa was working Wednesday.

At Busch Pain Clinic, 10220 N 30th St. in Tampa, police arrested Dr. Albert Elsworth Ford, 75, of Land O'Lakes. They charged him with writing a prescription for a controlled substance through deception, untruthfulness or fraud.

Wednesday's roundup comes a day after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that the nation's doctors prescribed enough addictive painkillers last year to medicate every American adult around the clock for a month.

The report said addictive narcotic medications such as OxyContin and Vicodin are responsible for nearly 15,000 deaths a year, more than cocaine and heroin combined.

In a news release, state Attorney General Pam Bondi thanked Hillsborough and state authorities for their investigations.

"Today's arrests should send a clear message that prescription drug trafficking in Florida will not be tolerated," she said.

Times news researcher John Martin contributed to this report.

Two doctors among those facing charges in Tampa pill mill crackdown 11/02/11 [Last modified: Thursday, November 3, 2011 12:10am]
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