Secret plea deal may give pill-mill doctor just 6 months in work release
Metropolitan Bureau of Investigation agents visit a pain clinic south of downtown Orlando in June 2011 where Dr. Riyaz Jummani worked. (Jacob Langston, Orlando Sentinel)
Agents who raided the offices last year were quick to tout an alarming statistic: Jummani prescribed more oxycodone during a three-month period in 2010 than all doctors in the state of California combined.
When 66-year-old Jummani was later arrested on racketeering charges, he faced decades behind bars if convicted.
But records show the state will recommend Jummani be sentenced to just six months in the Orange County Jail's work-release program in exchange for his cooperation in bringing down others. If that sentence is granted, he'll live in a dorm setting, have visitors and be able to work.
The Attorney General's Office wanted to keep their recommended sentence a secret.
So in July, an assistant statewide prosecutor and Jummani's defense attorney asked a judge to seal the documents surrounding the plea deal. And he agreed.
But the Orlando Sentinel obtained those records, which show that Jummani pleaded guilty on July 11 to one count of conspiracy to commit racketeering, a first-degree felony punishable by up to 30 years in state prison.
The plea agreement calls for a sentence of 21 months in a state prison and for Jummani to permanently surrender his medical license. As part of that agreement and an additional "substantial assistance" agreement, Jummani agreed to testify truthfully against co-defendants and help law enforcement with investigations.
However, if he meets all of the state's requirements, the Office of Statewide Prosecution said it will recommend Jummani's sentence be reduced to six months in the Orange County Work Release Center.
Ultimately, a judge will make that decision. And it could be years before Jummani is sentenced, as his cooperation will be required first.
When asked about the plea agreement Wednesday, the Attorney General's office issued this statement through press secretary John Lucas:
"We are dedicated to ridding Florida of prescription drug traffickers and closing pill mills. In prescription drug abuse cases, our goal is to target the kingpins of the criminal organizations. In many prescription drug cases, the doctors and local clinic owners may be the top of that criminal organization," the statement read. "However, some cases may involve others beyond the doctors who are responsible for the proliferation of these pill mills throughout Florida and our nation. Seeking the cooperation of doctors whom we're prosecuting for prescription drug trafficking can sometimes be a necessary step to get to those who are the most culpable."
Orlando lawyer Rajan Joshi, who, with attorney Mark NeJame is defending Jummani, said the state's action in this case, "is exactly what we want from our prosecutors, in that they evaluate each case individually on the facts and merits."
"This is one of the toughest prosecutors in the area and has put a lot of people in prison for a very long time," Joshi said. "The Office of the Attorney General and the Statewide Prosecutor's Office should be applauded in that they evaluate the particular facts and circumstances of each case in determining their recommendation instead of having a hard-lined policy."
Many resources behind the bust
Jummani worked at the Pro Relief Center — also known as Pain Relief Orlando — on South Orange Avenue near downtown and Pain Relief Center of Orlando, off Curry Ford Road.
Investigators said Jummani, who was arrested earlier this year, gave prescriptions for powerful, addictive drugs to people who didn't have a true medical need for the pills.
Authorities also charged fellow physician Aron Rotman, and the father and sons who owned or operated the two Orlando clinics: Lewis Shapiro, Jarrett Shapiro and Darin Shapiro, who is also a professional wake boarder.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement and Metropolitan Bureau of Investigation have spent tens of thousands of dollars and countless hours investigating the two clinics.
There were numerous signs the clinics were pill mills — long lines of patients standing outside, armed security guards, and signs posting what medications cost that day.
As in many pill-mill investigations, undercover agents posed as patients, talked to former employees, and followed paper trails to build the case against Jummani.
Agents pulled the prescribing histories for 75 of Jummani's patients who got their drugs at Walgreens and found 64 of the customers had criminal records. Of those, 42 had previously been arrested on drug-related charges.
On Wednesday, Joyce Dawley, the FDLE Special Agent in Charge of the Orlando region, told the Sentinel that her agency was not consulted by prosecutors on key details of the agreement — which included offering Jummani the six-month work camp sentence.
Another doctor gets 25 years
Few of the cases against Central Florida doctors accused of operating so-called pill-mills have made it through the court system yet.
But if Jummani receives the six-month jail work camp sentence — or even if he receives the nearly two-year prison term — his sentence would be drastically different from the one Central Florida physician Jose Carlos Menendez received earlier this year.
Menendez, who was also represented by Joshi, was sentenced to 25 years in prison for supplying drug dealers with prescriptions for painkillers.
There are notable differences in the cases, including that Menendez faced a drug charge and Jummani faced racketeering, money laundering and conspiracy to commit racketeering. Florida has harsh mandatory minimum sentencing laws for certain drug cases.
Jummani's prospective sentence may seem lenient, but plea deals and bargaining that leads to reduced sentences are nothing new in the court system.
"When an individual is facing significant state prison time, it's not very hard for them to testify against anyone or everyone in order to minimize their exposure, especially if you're 66 years old," explained veteran Orlando criminal defense attorney Bill Sheaffer, who is not associated with the Jummani case.
But in cases such as Jummani's, Sheaffer speculated, the physician is going to have to help on cases "that are equal to or greater than his own."
Sheaffer noted that Florida has a serious prescription drug problem, but stopping just Jummani won't solve the issue. The state could use Jummani to help stop others, Sheaffer said.
"The bigger the defendant is, the more involved the defendant was…the easier it's going to be to provide that substantial assistance and fulfill that contract," Sheaffer said.
In this case, there is a trade-off, Sheaffer said: One doctor gets a seemingly light sentence while he helps bring down other key players — and stop the flow of illegal prescription drugs — in Florida.
The same day Jummani's plea agreement was filed in Orange County Circuit Court, Assistant Statewide Prosecutor Anne Wedge-McMillen and Joshi filed their joint motion asking a judge to keep the documents out of the public record.
Orange County Circuit Court Judge Alan Apte granted the motion and ordered the notice of Jummani's sentencing hearing also be sealed.
"The open review and publication of the court file containing the plea agreement, substantial assistance agreement, bond stipulations, and other such records in this matter," the motion states, "would make any such efforts by the Defendant at providing substantial assistance to law enforcement ineffective …"
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