DEA arrests West Hollywood pychiatrist, manager on charges they ran 'pill mill'

A West Hollywood psychiatrist and his office manager were arrested today by federal agents who alleged the two men exchanged thousands of prescriptions for addictive drugs for cash.

Dr. Nathan Kuemmerle, 37, of Hollywood, was taken into custody at his home by special agents with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and officers with the Redondo Beach Police Department, according to Thom Mrozek of the U.S. Attorney's Office.

The office manager, Antonie "Tony'' Phillips, 28, of Koreatown, was arrested at Kuemmerle's clinic on Santa Monica Boulevard, Mrozek said.

Both men were charged in a criminal complaint filed Friday in U.S. District Court that accuses them of conspiracy to distribute controlled substances — a charge that carries a penalty of up to 20 years in federal prison, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

The investigation into Kuemmerle began last August, when Redondo Beach police arrested an individual who allegedly had offered Adderall for sale on Craigslist, Mrozek said.

That person fingered Kuemmerle as the alleged source of the Adderall, claiming the psychiatrist wrote prescriptions on numerous occasions without any medical examination, and that he would write prescriptions for various names during a single visit, according to Mrozek.

A 98-page affidavit alleges that Kuemmerle later wrote prescriptions for Subutex, which at $15 a tablet was expensive, so the doctor suggested that the individual sell Adderall on Craigslist to help pay for the Subutex, an opiate used to treat opiate addiction.

The information from the informant was corroborated by other informants, leading to a series of undercover buys by Redondo Beach police and DEA agents, according to the affidavit.

Undercover law enforcement agents visited Kuemmerle's clinic seven times in recent months, and each time they were given prescriptions of Adderall or Xanax in exchange for cash, the U.S. Attorney's Office alleges.

In one visit, an undercover officer paid $150 for prescriptions for both drugs during a meeting that lasted eight minutes, the affidavit alleges.

According to the court document, Phillips sometimes discussed with "patients" what drugs they wanted, and often prepared prescriptions for Kuemmerle's signature.

After analyzing Kuemmerle's prescribing history and reviewing secret tapes made at the clinic, a San Diego-based psychiatrist concluded that "there is overwhelming evidence that Dr. Kuemmerle is running a quintessential `pill mill,''' according to the affidavit.

From the beginning of 2006 through late November 2009, Kuemmerle wrote 14,529 prescriptions for a variety of controlled substances, meaning that he averaged 15 prescriptions during his normal five-hour workday, according to the report by Dr. Steven Ornish.

"Dr. Kuemmerle's professional conduct has been egregious, grossly negligent, flagrantly incompetent and dangerous, and this is not a close call," Ornish wrote.

The affidavit in support of the criminal complaint, where Ornish's report is summarized, states that during 2009, Kuemmerle wrote more prescriptions for the largest available dosage of amphetamine salts — the generic name for Adderall — than any other doctor in California, and that he wrote 3 1/2 times more amphetamine salts prescriptions than the number two prescriber of the drug.

According to the affidavit, an analysis of records from 2006 through November 2009 shows that Kuemmerle was the state's second-largest prescriber of all Schedule II drugs, which include the highly addictive substances amphetamine salts (Adderall), oxycodone (OxyContin), hydrocodone (Vicodin and Norco) and alprazolam (Xanax).

Kuemmerle and Phillips were expected to make their initial court appearances Wednesday in federal court in Los Angeles, Mrozek said.

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