Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Azmat: Affirming convictions of physican who prescribed drugs for "pill mill"

In U.S. v. Azmat, No. 14-13703 (Nov. 10, 2015), the Court affirmed convictions for unlawful dispensation of controlled substances, and conspiracy to money launder, of a physician who wrote prescriptions for Oxycodone to “patients” of a “pill mill.” The Court rejected Azmat’s argument that writing prescriptions did not qualify as “dispensing” drugs, citing contrary precedent, and the language of the drug trafficking statute. The Court also rejected Azmat’s challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence. As to the drug trafficking counts, the Court noted that “the patients looked like addicts or ‘zombies.’” As to the money laundering count, which charged the use of the proceeds from unlawfully dispensing controlled substances to promote the pill mill’s illegal activities, the Court noted that the patients paid for the drugs in cash, and the defendants used this cash to operate the illegal “clinic.” The Court also rejected Azmat’s Daubert challenge to the testimony of a government expert that Azmat’s prescribed controlled substances were “not medically legitimate.” The Court noted that the doctor’s expert testimony relied on published sources generally accepted by the medical community in defining the applicable standard of care. Turning to sentencing, the Court found no error in the district court’s calculation of drug quantity, which held Azmat accountable for all of the drugs he prescribed, noting the expert testimony that he did no prescribe any of the pills for a legitimate medical purpose. Finally, the Court rejected Azmat’s claim that his sentence created an unwarranted disparity in relation to the shorter sentences imposed on his accomplices, pointing out that the accomplices pled guilty, and that he was convicted of more crimes.