KNOXVILLE — Another medical professional convicted in a drug distribution conspiracy centered around a Maryville “pill mill” was sentenced to prison this week.
Donna Jeanne Smith, who worked as a nurse practitioner at Breakthrough Pain Therapy Center (BPTC) on East Broadway Avenue, was sentenced to two years in prison Thursday in Knoxville’s U.S. District Court.
The 62-year-old, who was stripped of her nurse practitioner license following her arrest, issued an apology and asked U.S. District Judge Pamela Reeves for leniency.
“I’d like to apologize to the court, the community and my patients at Breakthrough,” Smith said. “I take full responsibility. There were red flags, and I looked away.”
The “red flags” Smith mentioned were purportedly everywhere at BPTC. Prosecutors have used the word “carnival” to describe the goings-on just outside the facility. The parking lot was always packed, and the clientele — referred to by prosecutors as “customers” instead of “patients” — reportedly often used and dealt drugs right there outside the building.
According to court documents, the facility itself was void of anything resembling a standard medical practice. There were no exam tables, prosecutors said, and no medical equipment at all.
Defense attorney Karmen Waters said Smith regrets what went on at BPTC. Court records show Smith was there between August 2010 and November 2010, which equated to 21 days of actual work.
“Hindsight is 20/20,” Waters said. “I think she looks back and realizes now that (it) was horrible.”
In passing sentence, Reeves noted that Smith had no prior criminal record, was among the first in the case to sign a plea agreement and was apparently the first to be completely honest with prosecutors about what took place at the pill mill.
“(She), for 62 years of her life, has led a very law-abiding life, with the exception of the 21 days that we are here for today,” Reeves said.
Not only that, but Smith was a productive member in the medical field and within the community before going to work at BPTC, the judge added.
Prosecutors said Smith didn’t change after BPTC was raided by authorities in December 2010, and in fact went to work at several other pill mills before her arrest. A prescription she wrote while working at one of those clinics led to one individual’s death, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Frank Dale Jr.
Reeves said she could only consider a sentence for Smith’s involvement with BPTC, not something which purportedly came later. She decided on the two-year sentence Waters had requested. Prosecutors were seeking something closer to three.
Upon her release from prison, Smith will be on supervised release for three years.
Smith and the remaining medical workers indicted in the case all pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute Schedule II opioids and Schedule IV tranquilizers. The plea agreements state they knew — or should have known — BPTC was nothing more than a pill mill.
On Wednesday, Reeves sentenced former doctor Deborah Gayle Thomas to 10 years in prison. Court records show she was the main medical staffer at BPTC and was the only one to work there the entire 17 months it was open.
The other doctor indicted in the case, James Brian Joyner, was sentenced in November to five years and 10 months in prison. Jamie Chiles Cordes, who worked as a nurse practitioner at BPTC, was sentenced Jan. 13 to four years and six months imprisonment.
A week later, fellow BPTC nurse practitioners Sherry Ann Fetzer and Buffy Rene Kirkland were sentenced — Fetzer to three years probation and Kirkland to two years in prison.
Walter David Blankenship, a physician assistant at BPTC, is set for a March 3 sentencing, while a March 23 sentencing is scheduled for former nurse practitioner Don Robert Lewis Jr.
The last defendant, David Erick Brickhouse, died in a single-vehicle crash last year on Pellissippi Parkway. He worked as a physician assistant at BPTC.
The clinic’s owners, Randy and Sandra Kincaid, are serving 69- and 39-year sentences, respectively, on drug and money laundering charges. Randy Kincaid was also convicted of firearm charges.
The couple’s children, Wendi Henry and Dustin Morgan, were convicted of illegally dispensing controlled substances. Henry was sentenced to 18 years in prison. Morgan, who was also convicted of carrying a firearm during a drug trafficking crime, got 17 years.
Tamral “Tammy” Guzman, who owned another Maryville pill mill raided on the same day as BPTC, is serving a 21-year prison sentence on drug and money laundering charges.