Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Tampa pain clinic owners facing drug trafficking, racketeering charges

TAMPA — In July, police raided and shut down a Dale Mabry Highway pain clinic they suspected of being a pill mill. Six months later, officers arrested the co-owners and a physician.

But Hillsborough prosecutors did not follow up by actually filing charges until this week — and the case looks like a big one: 82 counts, including drug trafficking, conspiracy and racketeering against the 1st Medical Group married co-owners Michele Gonzalez and Jorge Gonzalez-Betancourt and a doctor, Kimberly Daffern.

Office manager Maureen Altman and clinic employee William Pernas, face 11 and nine conspiracy charges respectively.

But Michael Laurato, an attorney for two of the defendants, called the 178-page charging document a ploy by prosecutors:

The charges were filed Wednesday — the day before an appeals court heard arguments on whether Tampa police must turn over the more than $220,000 that was seized from the clinic and Gonzalez-Betancourt's car and home.

A Hillsborough Circuit Court judge said in August that there was no evidence that the money was related to any criminal activity or that the clinic was operating illegally.

The city appealed that decision to the 2nd District Court of Appeal in Lakeland.

Laurato said authorities are trying to use the newly filed criminal charges to gain leverage in that forfeiture case.

"It's an entirely vindictive presentation," said Laurato, who represents the clinic and Michele Gonzalez. "It's complete and total abuse of power by the Hillsborough State Attorney's Office."

Hillsborough State Attorney's Office spokesman Mark Cox declined to comment on the case.

Police have said 1st Medical Group gave free prescriptions and office visits to recruiters who brought in out-of-state clients and homeless people.

Authorities allege that at least five people died of overdoses from pills obtained with prescriptions from 1st Medical, accused of prescribing 2.4 million pain pills in the first seven months of 2010.

The new documents filed by prosecutors this week do not contain much new information about the case.

Laurato said authorities just beat a 175-day deadline from the arrest date to file charges. The clinic, which had been located at 2314 N Dale Mabry Highway, has not operated since July, and Laurato said authorities still have its equipment.

He said he would file a motion to dismiss the case before the defendants are arraigned.

Tampa pain clinic owners facing drug trafficking, racketeering charges 06/03/11 [Last modified: Friday, June 3, 2011 10:13pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Remember him? Numbers prove Ben Zobrist is one of greatest Rays of all time

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — The first foray back to the Trop by the best manager the Rays have had obscured the second return visit by arguably the second-best player in franchise history.


    Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Blake Snell (4) takes the field to start the game between the Chicago Cubs and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017.
  2. GOP's new repeal bill would likely leave millions more uninsured, analyses suggest


    WASHINGTON — The latest Republican bid to roll back the Affordable Care Act would likely leave millions of currently insured Americans without health coverage in the coming decades, and strip benefits and protections from millions more, a growing number of independent studies suggest.

    Vice President Mike Pence listens as President Donald Trump talks to reporters about the Graham-Cassidy health care bill during a meeting with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi at the Palace Hotel during the United Nations General Assembly, Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017, in New York. [Evan Vucci | Associated Press]
  3. Mueller casts broad net in requesting extensive records from Trump White House


    WASHINGTON — The special counsel investigating Russian election meddling has requested extensive records and email correspondence from the White House, covering the president's private discussions about firing his FBI director and his response to news that the then-national security adviser was under …

    In a photograph provided by the Russian foreign ministry, President Donald Trump meets with Sergei Lavrov, left, the Russian foreign minister, and Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador, in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, May 10, 2017. Special counsel Robert Mueller is interested in this meeting, where Trump said dismissing FBI Director James Comey had relieved "great pressure" on him, the New York Times reported on Sept. 20. [Russian Foreign Ministry via  New York Times]
  4. 'We will find our island destroyed': Hurricane Maria demolishes Puerto Rico


    SAN JUAN — Sleepless Puerto Ricans awoke Wednesday knowing to expect a thrashing from the most ferocious storm to strike the island in at least 85 years. They met nightfall confronting the ruin Hurricane Maria left behind: engorged rivers, blown-out windows, sheared roofs, toppled trees and an obliterated electric …

    Rescue vehicles from the Emergency Management Agency stand trapped under an awning during the impact of Hurricane Maria, after the storm  hit the eastern region of the island, in Humacao, Puerto Rico, Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017. The U.S. National Hurricane Center says Maria has lost its major hurricane status, after raking Puerto Rico. But forecasters say some strengthening is in the forecast and Maria could again become a major hurricane by Thursday. [Carlos Giusti | Associated Press]
  5. Obamacare repeal bill offers flexibility and uncertainty


    The latest Republican proposal to undo the Affordable Care Act would grant states much greater flexibility and all but guarantee much greater uncertainty for tens of millions of people.