Centreville Before Paul Boccone was sentenced last week to 15 years in prison for crimes including distributing narcotics out of the Chantilly Pain Clinic, his attorney John Iweanoge tried rewriting history.
“This is not the usual drug-dealing case,” he told the judge. “All the people receiving medications had pain and needed [them]. Mistakes were made, but Mr. Boccone can’t be held responsible for every bad thing done by his employees. So I ask you to fashion a lighter sentence for him.”
But Virginia Assistant Attorney General Marc J. Birnbaum — a former Fairfax County assistant commonwealth’s attorney — set the record straight.
“That’s not what happened,” he said. “This defendant affirmatively entered a conspiracy to sell and distribute drugs throughout the community, Virginia and other states. He hired employees without a pain-treatment background so he could direct what they should do [and prescribe]. He directed more than 800,000 oxycodone pills to be distributed in a one-year period.”
“[Paul Boccone] affirmatively entered a conspiracy to sell and distribute drugs.” — Marc J. Birnbaum, Virginia Assistant Attorney General
This scene played out last Friday, Nov. 9, in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, where both Boccone, 56, the clinic’s owner and president, and Charles Brown Jr., 52, a nurse practitioner there, received their sentences. Birnbaum said Boccone led a “multi-level operation” and even ordered Brown to alter the records of patients who died.
“Oxycodone abuse and the abuse of prescription drugs are a plague throughout the U.S. and this defendant was at the core,” said the prosecutor. “Patients came [to Boccone’s clinic] from hundreds of miles because they knew, as addicts, they could get what they wanted there. A significant sentence is appropriate.”
Then it was Boccone’s turn to speak and he stood and addressed U.S. District Court Judge Claude Hilton. “I worked very hard trying to manage a sound, stable practice,” said Boccone. “I’m not a doctor; I relied on my employees to do their jobs.” He also said patients sometimes gave them false information.
“I was president of the corporation, so I don’t shirk that responsibility,” continued Boccone. “I’m not the kind of person who’d do something like this, with an intention to defraud or harm or put anyone in peril.”
But Hilton had the final say. For seven counts total of conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance and distributing it, he sentenced Boccone to 15 years in prison. For one count of health-care fraud, he gave Boccone one year behind bars. And for 12 counts of failure to pay employment taxes, Hilton sentenced him to five years in prison.
“I understand now that what I did … crossed the line into bad medicine.” — Charles Brown Jr., nurse practitioner
The judge ran all the sentences concurrently, meaning Boccone has 15 years to serve. Hilton also placed him on three years supervised release, following his incarceration.
As conditions of his release, Boccone may not borrow any money without his probation officer’s approval, must provide his financial records to his probation officer upon request and must pay more than $200,000 in restitution for his unpaid taxes.
Brown was sentenced immediately after Boccone. Noting that Brown had no training in pain management, defense attorney David Williams said it was the job of the medical doctors in the practice to train Brown and review his charts daily.
“The other doctors provided the safety net and supervised what he did,” said Williams. “And he never wrote any prescriptions outside the practice.” Noting all the letters written on his client’s behalf, Williams asked the judge to sentence Brown “well below” the sentencing-guidelines range.
“There’s no question this defendant is less culpable than Mr. Boccone, but this conspiracy couldn’t have happened without his participation,” countered Birnbaum. “The defendant prescribed hundreds of thousands of oxycodone pills and his patients died of overdoses, so it’s hard to deny the real-life impacts of what he did. And he knew what he was doing — why else would he alter a patient’s record after death?”
Addressing the judge, Brown said he’d devoted his professional life to helping people and taking care of the sick. And before he became a nurse practitioner, he worked in research and development.
“I understand now that what I did at Chantilly Pain Clinic crossed the line into bad medicine, but I never deliberately over-prescribed,” he said. “I was never told I was doing anything wrong. I was naïve, but I trusted others and believed what I was told.”
Then for four counts of conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance and distributing it, Hilton sentenced Brown to five years in prison. The judge also placed him on three years supervised release once his term is completed. As a condition of that release, said Hilton, “You must undergo drug treatment or monitoring, as requested by your probation officer.”