PINELLAS PARK — Thousands of patients visited the Dollar Medical Clinics, many from other parts of Florida or out of state, to get prescriptions from Dr. Jacinta Gillis.
They came for methadone, oxycodone, and diazepam. And they almost always got them.
"She handed out prescriptions like candy," said statewide prosecutor Kelly McKnight during Gillis' trial Wednesday. "They were coming in and out. There was no evaluation. There were no real exams. There was just script after script after script."
In what the Pinellas sheriff's office calls one of the most flagrant pill mill cases in county history, Gillis, 46, is accused of illegally running pain medicine out of her two clinics, one in Pinellas Park and the other in Leehigh Acres in Lee County, at the peak of the prescription drug epidemic in 2011.
She faces charges of racketeering, money laundering, conspiracy to commit racketeering, and conspiracy to traffic controlled substances. She faces a minimum of 25 years in prison if convicted.
Gillis, who is serving as her own legal counsel, told the jury of six on Wednesday that she did not commit any crimes and was just trying to help patients cope with pain.
"They were there because they were suffering. They came to me because I cared," Gillis said, stifling back tears. "What I pray and what I hope for is that you can see the truth."
In opening statements, McKnight said that Gillis saw 50 to 70 patients every day. Patients would line outside the door for prescriptions that they paid $125 for in cash.
Gillis prescribed medications without examining her patients, and sometimes even saw them via a webcam, McKnight said. Some of her patients were drug addicts, but others were hooked to the medications when they sought pain treatment with Gillis.
"They became so dope sick," McKnight added, "that when the clinic got shut down, they turned to the street."
Pinellas Sheriff's detectives investigated the clinic for about two years. Several undercover deputies visited Gillis's office and met with her for about two minutes. One deputy was prescribed 150 oxycodone pills and 20 diazepam pills on his first visit.
She made about $1.3 million in a year, money that Gillis obtained unlawfully, McKnight said.
But Gillis, of Fort Myers, said she is innocent, adding the jury will hear about her "flawless" medical history and her extensive experience in offering pain management. She said she charged $125 for prescriptions because other clinics charged more, up to $400, and she was trying to help low-income patients.
"Everybody's level of pain is different," she said. "As a doctor, our job is to evaluate everyone independently."
Gillis said she didn't use the webcam to see patients, but rather to communicate with employees when she was at her other office.
Throughout her opening statements, prosecutors objected when Gillis tried to mention how the case has affected her and her family, or why she decided to represent herself.
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"This is a serious issue," she said. "My life depends on it."
Gillis thanked the jury and sat down. The trial is expected to last about two weeks.
Contact Laura C. Morel at email@example.com. Follow @lauracmorel.