The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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July 18, 2012

Carthage counselor pleads guilty in federal court

CARTHAGE, Mo. — A professional counselor pleaded guilty Wednesday in federal court to conspiring with her late ex-husband to distribute $1.5 million worth of prescription drugs illegally through their clinic in Carthage, and to launder the proceeds.

Tammy L. Neil, 42, changed her plea to guilty on two of 24 counts contained in an indictment handed up on May 12, 2010, in U.S. District Court in Springfield.

With the two plea changes, Neil admitted her role in a conspiracy to distribute phentermine through the Complete Quick Care Clinic in Carthage from Jan. 1, 2005, through March 26, 2008. She also acknowledged engaging in money laundering over the same time period by “aiding and abetting others” in financial transactions involving “the proceeds of illegal distribution of prescription drugs,” according to the U.S. attorney’s office for the Western District of Missouri.

Neil faces up to four years in prison, a fine up to $250,000 and one year of supervised release for the conspiracy to distribute phentermine under terms of her plea agreement with the prosecutor’s office. She faces up to 20 years in prison, a fine up to $500,000 and three years of supervised release for the conspiracy to commit money laundering.

A sentencing hearing will be scheduled before U.S. Magistrate Judge James England when the United States Probation Office completes a pre-sentence investigation.

The federal indictment alleged that Neil and her ex-husband and business partner at the clinic, Dr. John Freitas, dispensed large quantities of prescription drugs “outside the usual course of professional practice and for no legitimate medical purpose.” The alleged violations involved large quantities of the drugs phentermine and hydrocodone in particular but also alprazolam (also known as Xanax) and diazepam (Valium).

The clinic on Garrison Avenue opened in 2005, with Freitas managing the pain and anxiety side of the practice and Neil the weight loss and counseling side. Freitas was registered with the Drug Enforcement Administration to write prescriptions. But Neil, as a licensed professional counselor, was not licensed to dispense drugs.

The federal government alleged in the indictment that the clinic quickly became known as an easy place to obtain prescriptions for controlled substances. Freitas was referred to by patients as “the candy man,” according to the indictment.

In its first year of business, Complete Quick Care became the eighth highest purchaser of hydrocodone, a narcotic, in Missouri, according to the DEA. The following year, the clinic led the state.

On the weight-loss side, the indictment said Neil was responsible for dispensing phentermine, a diet drug, “which patients in the area referred to as ‘synthetic meth.’” Phentermine is an amphetamine-based substance that shares some properties with, but differs significantly from, the street drug methamphetamine.

Neil and Freitas were divorced in December 2007 and she received the clinic as part of divorce proceedings. Freitas moved to Florida but was arrested in Jasper County in May 2008 for allegedly pointing a gun at Neil’s head and making “a noise as if he was shooting her.” The weapon charge was later dismissed.

Freitas committed suicide in Florida in February 2010, three months before the indictment of Neil. The federal document suggested that charges would have been sought against him as well if not for his death.

The clinic remains under contract to provide medical and counseling services to jails in five counties: Jasper, Newton, McDonald, Barton and Barry. Neil has since married attorney Greg Payne, who has been signing the clinic’s contracts as its authorized agent and attorney.

Reached for comment Wednesday, Payne said it would be inappropriate for him to say anything about his wife’s criminal case prior to sentencing. He said it was “immaterial who owns the clinic.”

“All I can tell you is: Currently, Tammy is not a member of Complete Quick Care,” Payne said.

He said while she may continue to be employed by the clinic, she “no longer has an equity interest” in the limited liability company that operates the clinic. Dr. Rosalind Rush has been providing medical services to the county jails for the clinic since the fall of last year, according to Payne.

John Bartosh, presiding Jasper County commissioner, said he does not believe Neil’s guilty plea should have any affect on the county’s contract with the clinic, especially since she no longer owns it.

“They can hire anybody they want to work there,” Bartosh said. “If she goes to prison forever, it makes no difference to us. Her name is not on the contract.”

Sheriff Ken Copeland said a new contract with the clinic is being drawn up in Newton County and will be presented to the County Commission there within a few days. The sheriff said Neil had advised him that she was no longer affiliated with the clinic. Copeland said he’s been “extremely satisfied” with the clinic’s medical and counseling services, and sees no reason to change providers.

“We can’t beat it,” he said. “We’d be happy to look at any other facility that offers these services (to jails), but that clinic’s the only one.”

 

Forfeitures

Tammy Neil’s guilty pleas were entered under terms of an agreement with the federal prosecutor’s office that also calls for her forfeiture of $200,000 in proceeds from illegal drug sales as well as a 2007 Jaguar, a 1966 Piper airplane, and $10,000 cash as a substitute for a 2008 Cadillac Escalade.

The federal government maintains that Neil acquired the two vehicles and the plane with proceeds from the illegal distribution of drugs.

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