Last updated: September 06. 2013 2:07PM - 104 Views

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ANDREW WELSH-HUGGINS

AP Legal Affairs Writer

COLUMBUS — Another trial of alleged pill mill operators begins Tuesday, one that will highlight the connections between the roots of the state’s painkiller epidemic in southern Ohio and the 90-mile trip many addicts took north to Columbus when their source for prescriptions dried up.

A 2010 indictment alleged that Nancy and Lester Sadler operated a pain clinic in Waverly in Pike County where employees had strict orders to set up enough appointments to fill 30 to 40 prescriptions of powerful painkillers a day at $125 a visit.

Workers who met the quota would receive a week’s pay for three or four days’ work, according to the government. Those who slipped up got less, according to the indictment.

More than a year after the indictment, prosecutors alleged in a new filing that the Sadlers were running a second clinic in Columbus and using profits they hid from the government to take extensive gambling and shopping trips.

One patient died of an overdose days after obtaining pills at the Columbus clinic, according to the government.

The Sadlers and employee Sandy Wells, who also goes on trial, have pleaded not guilty. Jury selection is scheduled in federal court in Cincinnati for 10 a.m.

“My client’s position is he did nothing criminal, he did nothing wrong,” Richard Goldberg, representing Lester Sadler, said Monday. Attorneys for Nancy Sadler and Wells did not immediately return messages seeking comment.

Three other defendants have pleaded guilty and could testify against the Sadlers at trial.

On Monday, ex-Ohio doctor Brenda Banks pleaded guilty to one count of acquiring or possessing a controlled substance by deception. Banks was accused of helping clinic operators and employees use her medical license to order nearly 220,000 pills of the painkiller hydrocodone

In March, Lisa Clevenger, Nancy Sadler’s sister, pleaded guilty to one count of maintaining a drug premises in connection with her work at Ohio Medical and Pain Management in Waverly.

In December, James Sadler, Lester Sadler’s father, pleaded guilty to one count of diverting controlled substances.

Other recent cases have uncovered connections between southern Ohio pill mills and similar activities in Columbus, the state’s biggest city. Addicts have increasingly turned to Columbus for pills and prescriptions as authorities crack down on pill mills in southern Ohio, considered by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration one of the worst places in the country for prescription painkiller abuse.

Earlier this month, prosecutors charged an owner of three Ohio medical clinics — including one in Columbus — with illegal drug distribution.

The indictment alleges 47-year-old Tracy Bias of West Portsmouth oversaw six doctors who wrote illegal prescriptions and also opened unlicensed dispensaries after legitimate pharmacists refused to fill prescriptions.

The indictment said so many patients traveled from Portsmouth to the Columbus clinic that local pharmacies stopped filling the prescriptions. As a result, Bias told customers coming to Columbus to obtain state ID cards with Columbus addresses, according to the government.

In January, a federal judge sentenced a Columbus pharmacist to two years in prison for illegally dispensing pain pills.

The DEA said pharmacist Harold Fletcher filled painkiller prescriptions in Columbus for Leslie Cooper of West Portsmouth in southern Ohio on Oct. 2, 2009, the day before she was found dead of an overdose, according to DEA records. Fletcher was never charged in Cooper’s death.

The doctor who prescribed the pain pills that Fletcher filled for Cooper was charged last year with drug trafficking and corrupt activity and his southern Ohio office shut down, with authorities calling it a glorified drug house.

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