‘Pill Mill’ case in hands of jury, former owner still at large
By J.J. Kindred | (Jj.Kindred@thedailytimes.com)
KNOXVILLE — The fate of the former owner of the Maryville Pain Management and Detox Clinic is now in the hands of a federal jury.
Closing arguments were heard Wednesday during the ninth day of the trial of Tamral (Tammy) Guzman, 42, who is charged with allegedly writing false prescriptions, conspiracy and possession with intent to distribute oxycodone, hydrocodone and other dangerous drugs, and several counts of money laundering.
The jury deliberated for several hours Wednesday afternoon, but failed to come up with a verdict.
Meanwhile, Guzman is being sought by U.S. marshals after failing to show up for court Tuesday morning. Her whereabouts remain unknown.
Guzman’s mother, Sandra Gardner, who lived in her daughter’s house in Maryville in a basement apartment, told the jury Wednesday of her daughter’s disappearance.
Gardner said she woke up at 5:30 Tuesday morning with a “bad feeling.” She checked her daughter’s bedroom and found a note on her dresser.
The note read: “I will always love you all. Sorry about everything. You all take care. Love, Tamral.”
“Everything was so blurry,” Gardner said. “I took the note and tried to figure out what to do. I just prayed and I was so frightened from not knowing what to do.”
She told the jury her daughter might have fled was because she “felt the evidence coming out was not in her favor. She was told she may have to serve 888 years. “When we went to the prayer meeting, she felt like she was at peace and thought everything would be OK. I believe she fled out of fear.”
During closing arguments, prosecuting U.S. Attorney Jennifer Kolman said that Tennessee was an “epidemic” with the illegal use of opioids, including oxycodone.
“We have a problem,” Kolman said. “There are always people looking to capitalize because there’s big money in it. (Guzman) went from making $29,000 a year to making a million. She went from rags to riches because of other people’s addictions, and it was all for money.
“Her own family had addictions, but that didn’t bother her because the money was good,” Kolman added. “She was part of a conspiracy with doctors and patients, knowing it was a ‘pill mill.’ You can’t write a prescription without a license. If you do, it’s a criminal act. There was nothing legal going on in that place.”
Defense attorney Michael Menefee said during his closing argument that Guzman did what the medical professionals told her to do, and relied heavily on their expertise.
He specifically mentioned nurse practitioner Maimoune Wright, who was known to have issues in the clinic and had trouble getting along with Guzman herself, plus other employees and patients. She was charged separately with supplying Guzman signed blank prescriptions to dole out to patients.
“As crazy as (Wright) was, she was the cash cow and bringing in the money,” Menefee said.
He noted that Guzman brought in Christy Mapes, a nurse practitioner, to replace Wright when she left. Mapes testified last week that she only worked at the clinic two days before quitting because of her suspicions of illegal practices.
“If all Guzman was interested in was bringing in money, she would have never made that call (to replace Wright),” Menefee said.
He pointed out that the jury saw Guzman’s tax returns, which showed she reported making more than $1 million for two straight years to the IRS.
“If she was trying to hide it, she was doing a bad job,” Menefee said. “Yes, she made deposits every day. She didn’t want $10,000 sitting in her office.
“You are trying to decide whether there was a criminal conspiracy,” Menefee continued. “Do people running a conspiracy invite the DEA over and get advice if they’re doing things right in running a clinic? Do you call the task force 25 to 30 times to arrest pain patients when running a conspiracy? Do you complain that Wright wasn’t doing things right if there was a conspiracy, and then hire Mapes to do things right? Are any of those actions of someone running a criminal conspiracy? If you don’t find that, you must acquit her.”
U.S. District Judge Thomas A. Varlan sent jurors home for the night, and they are expected to resume deliberations today.