Prescription Drug Fraud - 21 U.S.C. § 841
The opioid crisis across the United States has prompted federal law enforcement agencies to take a more aggressive approach against selling and distributing prescription drugs.
The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) routinely investigate “pill mill” cases against doctors and other medical professionals that treat patients and prescribe prescription drugs.
A “pill mill” describes medical professionals distributing prescription drugs outside their usual practice or without a legitimate medical need.
Under 21 U.S.C. 841, it's a federal drug offense to knowingly and intentionally distribute a controlled substance other than in the standard practice and for a legitimate medical need.
Further, the related statute 21 U.S.C. 846 makes it a federal crime to attempt or conspire with others to violate this federal law.
Most prescription drug fraud cases against someone are filed in state courts, but when several people are involved in a pill mill operation, they could be charged under federal laws.
For example, some physicians will unlawfully prescribe prescription drugs to help their patients control their pain.
Federal law enforcement agencies actively investigate medical professionals who regularly prescribe prescription medications listed within the Controlled Substances Act, such as OxyContin, Percocet, Percodan, Hydrocodone, Oxycodone, Morphine, and Fentanyl. Our federal criminal defense lawyers will review this federal law further below.
Criminal Investigations of a “Pill Mill”
These federal offenses are pursued when there are valid reasons to believe medical professionals are attempting to gain a financial profit.
Prosecutors use a special task force to identify, investigate, and prosecute the primary prescribers of pain medications. They frequently examine red flags that indicate a medical professional operates as a pill mill.
Doctors who regularly prescribe Schedule II and Schedule III prescriptions will often get scrutiny from the Drug Enforcement Administration even when operating a legitimate legal practice.
Sometimes, federal agents will conduct undercover sting operations and will, take pictures of patients coming to the office and keep a log of car license plate numbers.
What Are the Related Federal Laws?
Under 21 U.S. Code Part D, Offenses and Penalties, several federal statutes are related to 21 U.S.C. 841, including the following:
- 21 U.S.C. 842 - Prohibited acts B;
- 21 U.S.C. 843 - Prohibited acts C;
- 21 U.S.C. 844 - Penalties for simple possession:
- 21 U.S.C. 844a - Civil penalty for possession of small amounts;
- 21 U.S.C. 846 - Attempt and conspiracy;
- 21 U.S.C. 847 - Additional penalties;
- 21 U.S.C. 848 - Continuing criminal enterprise;
- 21 U.S.C. 849 - Transportation safety offenses;
- 21 U.S.C. 850 - Information for sentencing;
- 21 U.S.C. 851 - Proceedings to establish prior convictions;
- 21 U.S.C. 852 - Application of treaties;
- 21 U.S.C. 853 - Criminal forfeitures;
- 21 U.S.C. 854 - Investment of illicit drug profits;
- 21 U.S.C. 855 - Alternative fine;
- 21 U.S.C. 856 - Maintaining drug-involved premises;
- 21 U.S.C. 858 - Endangering human life;
- 21 U.S.C. 859 - Distribution to persons under age twenty-one;
- 21 U.S.C. 860 - Distribution or manufacturing near schools;
- 21 U.S.C. 860a - Consecutive sentence for manufacturing;
- 21 U.S.C. 861 - Employment or use of persons under 18;
- 21 U.S.C. 862 - Denial of federal benefits to drug traffickers;
- 21 U.S.C. 862a - Denial of assistance and benefits;
- 21 U.S.C. 862b - Sanctioning for testing positive;
- 21 U.S.C. 863 - Drug paraphernalia;
- 21 U.S.C. 864 - Anhydrous ammonia;
- 21 U.S.C. 864a - Grants to reduce the production of meth;
- 21 U.S.C. 865 - Smuggling methamphetamine or chemicals.
What Are the Strategies to Avoid a Mandatory Minimum Sentence?
Most drug cases that the feds prosecute involve some mandatory minimum – whether the 10-year or 5-year mandatory minimum.
If you're caught with a gun and selling enough drugs, then you could face a 15-mandatory minimum. So these cases are severe.
So, figuring out how to deal with the 10-year mandatory minimum is imperative. But, of course, one of the first things you want to assess is whether or not you can defend yourself in the case.
In other words, if you can go to trial and get a not-guilty verdict or if there is action related to filing a motion that can cause the entire case to be dismissed, that's an excellent option to get rid of the 10-year mandatory minimum.
Then you don't have to worry about it. But, unfortunately, most of the cases that are filed don't go down that way.
The feds are not typically stupid enough to file a case involving a 10-year mandatory minimum unless they've got good evidence to prove it, so you have to explore other ways to deal with the 10-year mandatory minimum.
Can You Negotiate with the Federal Prosecutor?
Of course, one way is if you're caught, and you're guilty, and they can prove it, then you can work out some resolution, and then you'll get at least the 10-year mandatory minimum; you might get more.
That's where many people get confused. That 10-year mandatory minimum is just a minimum. Most of the time, if somebody faces that 10-year mandatory minimum in a federal drug case, they're probably looking at ten years. So, you're not just going to get the ten years, you may get more.
If you do not want to cooperate with the government, which is the next topic I'm going to talk about, then you may want to consider taking a deal but realize you may well end up with that 10-year mandatory minimum unless you can avail yourself of the safety valve and that's another area I'm going to talk about.
What is Cooperation with the Government?
You have to talk about cooperation. The federal system is set up for cooperation. That's probably how the feds get most of their cases.
They catch somebody. That person tells on multiple people, and then those people they catch tell on various people, and that's how they keep spawning and getting more and more people.
So, if somebody wants to cooperate with them and they can give them good information to prove the case against other people and capture more drugs, weapons, whatever it is that they're interested in, then that person will get a benefit.
Often, that benefit will include not having to deal with the 10-year mandatory minimum and being able to get a sentence below the 10-year mandatory minimum. So that's certainly something we can discuss in my office if that's something that you are interested in.
What is a Safety Valve?
The other way is to get what's called the safety valve. You have to meet five criteria.
The main criteria being you have to cooperate with the government and at least give the information as it relates to yourself.
You can't be a lead organizer in the federal drug crime; you can't have a weapon while dealing with the crime.
You must consider a host of issues when attempting to get the safety valve in a federal drug case.
Bottom line, if you want the best if you or a loved one is facing the 10-year mandatory minimum or more, pick up the phone now.
Ask for a meeting with Ron Hedding. We'll discuss strategies that can be employed under your particular circumstances to get you the best possible result. The Hedding Law Firm is located in Los Angeles, California.