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LaGrange doctor accused of running ‘pill mill’ in Alabama

Defendant faced federal charges before

By Melanie Ruberti

mruberti@civitasmedia.com

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PHENIX CITY, Ala. — An Alabama doctor with ties to LaGrange faces serious allegations after being arrested late last week for reportedly running a “pill mill” out of his family medical practice.

Dr. Robert M. Ritchea, 53, of LaGrange, was arrested Thursday after being indicted by a federal grand jury, according to George L. Beck Jr., United States attorney for the Middle District of Alabama.

Ritchea, who lives in LaGrange but runs a medical practice in Phenix City, Alabama, was charged with drug distribution and money laundering offenses.

According to the indictment, the charges stem from Ritchea operating an alleged “pill mill” in which a medical clinic was created to dispense controlled substances inappropriately, unlawfully and for non-medical reasons.

The indictment charges Ritchea with writing prescriptions for schedule II pain medications, such as hydrocodone and methadone, knowing the patients who received the prescriptions had no legitimate medical need for them.

Ritchea used the proceeds of his pill mill to purchase schedule II pain medication directly from a drug manufacturer and fill his patients’ prescriptions without using a pharmacy, states the document.

This is not the first time Ritchea and his medical practice has been in trouble with federal officials.

In August 2010, the doctor was sued in a federal complaint filed by the United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia. Ritchea was charged with submitting false or fraudulent claims to Medicare.

The lawsuit alleged Ritchea allowed an unlicensed medical assistant to inject patients with pain medications and also improperly billed Medicare for the treatments, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

A document from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia said Ritchea admitted to both the Alabama State Board of Medical Examiners and the Georgia Composite State Board of Medical Examiners those procedures were not medically necessary and they were over-prescribed and over-utilized.

The complaint stated the doctor allegedly billed Medicare for more expensive procedures than were actually performed and for services that were not reimbursable.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office said Ritchea reportedly over-billed Medicare by more than $2.2 million dollars in at least 4,300 separate claims.

The lawsuit was settled in March 2012 with Ritchea excluded from payment from all federal healthcare programs for seven years.

The settlement stated the payment prohibition also applied to anyone who employs or contracts with Ritchea, plus any hospital or other provider for which he provides services.

Ritchea was also ordered to pay the United States the proceeds from the sale of a second home in Columbus and $5,000.

Melanie Ruberti is a reporter with LaGrange Daily News. She can be reached at 706-884-7311, ext. 2156.