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Lonoke County ‘Pill Mill’ Case Set for March

3 min read

Richard Johns, the suspended Little Rock physician charged with running a “pill mill” of fraudulent painkiller prescriptions, last week got the answer he was led to expect: The charges against him will not be dismissed by the judge and his claim that evidence was collected illegally was rejected.

U.S. District Judge Brian Miller, the chief federal judge for the Eastern District of Arkansas, had telegraphed as much when he held a pretrial hearing on Jan. 23.

So, as of Thursday afternoon, Johns and his multiple co-defendants were scheduled for trial on March 27.

Exactly how many defendants will still be standing by then is anyone’s guess. In the beginning — in September 2015, when a case originally filed in Lonoke County was taken over by the U.S. attorney’s office — Johns was charged in a conspiracy with 18 others. One defendant was dismissed back in September, and since then six others have pleaded guilty.

(The first to take a plea, Vanessa E. Byrd, was sentenced last month to 37 months in prison plus three years of supervised release.)

Four more are scheduled for pleas on March 10. One of them is David LaRue Scroggins, who is described in court documents as the person who provided Johns with names and birthdates of people for whom Johns would write prescriptions for Oxycodone. Scroggins allegedly paid Johns $500 for each prescription of 90 pills.

The pills were then resold for about $30 each, according to an affidavit filed by Detective Clint Eifling of the Lonoke County sheriff’s office.

Johns is alleged to have “profited $93,500” by writing at least 187 prescription for 16,830 pills that were resold for approximately $30 each — a total street value of more than $500,000, according to the affidavit.

No Dirty Cops
The case began in November 2014, when Scroggins’ daughter’s 25-year-old boyfriend, Curtis Norris, died of an overdose at Scroggins’ house near Cabot. (The daughter, Marissa Scroggins, is among the co-defendants.)

Eifling was sent to investigate, and defense attorneys Paul James and Bud Cummins have “done yeoman’s work in attempting to poke holes in the investigation,” Judge Miller wrote, before dismissing their efforts as insufficient.

In December, the judge denied the defense’s motion to suppress data from the Arkansas Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, which collects information — including the prescribing physician’s name — on all prescriptions of certain “schedule” drugs that have a high risk of being abused. In that order, Miller said Johns didn’t even have standing to object to the use of the data because the records are those of the pharmacies filling the prescriptions rather than the doctors’ own medical records.

At the January hearing, Johns’ defenders argued that the affidavit that Eifling submitted when he got a search warrant was flawed, but Miller said at the time that they weren’t meeting their burden.

“What you don’t want is dirty cops going to a judge and lying,” Miller said. And the defense’s complaint about Eifling “doesn’t rise to the level of a lie.”

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