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Big Stone Gap doctor, wife enter Alford pleas in 'pill mill' case

Mike Still • Jul 19, 2019 at 8:30 PM

WISE — A Big Stone Gap doctor and his wife were found guilty Friday of 15 drug, prescription and Medicaid fraud charges in connection with a series of incidents in 2017.

Wise County Commonwealth’s Attorney Chuck Slemp III said that Michael B. Ford, 75, and Una Faye Ford, 69, entered an Alford plea in Wise County Circuit Court on one count of distribution of Schedule II controlled substances and seven counts each of prescription fraud and Medicaid fraud.

An Alford plea is different from a guilty plea in that a defendant admits the evidence is sufficient to result in a guilty verdict.

Slemp said the charges stemmed from a joint investigation by the Southwest Virginia Regional Drug Task Force, Virginia State Police, Virginia Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Unit, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and other law enforcement agencies.

The Fords operated the Appalachian Medical Clinic in Appalachia, where authorities say the couple committed the offenses.

Michael Ford was accused of pre-signing opioid prescriptions for his employees and patients, allowing those drugs to distributed without him being present or seeing a patient. The Fords were also accused of having employees make false statements to receive Medicaid payments while the couple were in California on vacation.

Investigators raided and searched the clinic and the Fords’ residence in March 2018.

Slemp called the Fords’ clinic “a pill mill.”

“He illegally distributed narcotics without a valid medical purpose and committed fraud,” Slemp said. “Our entire community is safer, and there will be fewer illegal prescription drugs on our streets now with these convictions and because this clinic is shut down.”

Slemp said no plea deal was offered to the Fords. The charges carry a maximum combined sentence of 215 years for each defendant.

Michael Ford’s sentencing hearing in Circuit Court is scheduled for Dec. 16 and 27. Una Ford’s sentencing hearing is set for Jan. 6 and 7.

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