Logan doctor accused of running pill mill pleads guilty
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A doctor who operated a cash-only prescription medication business out of a Logan building has pleaded guilty in federal court.
Fernando Gonzales-Ramos, 47, of El Paso, Texas, said his medical assistant pre-wrote hundreds of prescriptions in advance of his visits every three months. When he arrived, he never examined most of those patients and charged them $400 to $500 for the medications.
He pleaded guilty before United States District Judge John Copenhaver to conspiracy to distribute and dispense controlled substances without a legitimate medical purpose outside of the usual course of professional practice.
Authorities said the doctor ran the operation from September 2011 through March 3, when a search warrant was used to enter the premises.
Federal and local law enforcement showed up Sunday, March 3 to investigate the so-called "pill mill" at 2130 Old Logan Road. They found people lined up outside the building. Inside, the facility had no medical equipment, exam tables or running water.
U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin said, "Dr. Gonzales-Ramos wasn't operating a doctor's office, he was running a drug den. For thousands of dollars in cash, he was pumping out prescriptions for thousands of units of powerful narcotics."
Goodwin said the office didn't even any medical equipment, even a stethoscope. But he said the office did have an armed security guard.
Gonzales-Ramos waived indictment by a federal grand jury and entered into a plea agreement with prosecutors. Instead of the possible 20-year sentence, prosecutors agreed to a limit of 57-71 months in prison. A three-year probation will most likely be added to that sentence, Copenhaver said.
The judge could also impose a $1 million fine.
The judge denied a request to set a bond and allow the doctor to be held on home-confinement in a South Hills home he owns at 1907 Clark Point Terrace. He will remain incarcerated until his sentencing in August.
The doctor requested to be allowed to be incarcerated in that home so he could have visits from his wife and three young children, who live in Texas. One of those children has special health needs, he said.
Copenhaver said he understood the needs of the children, who were separated from their father suddenly, but agreed with prosecutors that Gonzalez-Ramos had few real ties with West Virginia and was a flight risk.
Also, as part of the plea agreement, the doctor will relinquish his Drug Enforcement administration Certificate of registration that legally permits him to prescribe controlled substances and will not re-apply until after his probation is complete.
An undercover informant entered the suspected Logan pill mill on March 2 and paid $450 cash in exchange for a prescription for the painkiller hydrocodone.
Prior to obtaining the prescription, the individual had not been examined or questioned by anyone. That person received the prescription in less than three minutes, according to the prosecutor.
Gonzalez-Ramos was the primary care physician for the Veterans Affairs Health Care System in El Paso. He was licensed to practice medicine in West Virginia but the state Board of Medicine revokes that license upon a felony conviction.
Contact writer Cheryl Caswell at email@example.com or 304-348-4832