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Bridgeport mayor latest in drug sting, public official indictment

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Bridgeport Mayor Mario Blount this week became the latest in a string of elected officials in the Mountain State accused of breaking public trust, and this time the case involves drugs.

Blount, 51, and a registered pharmacist, was charged by a federal grand jury with conspiring to possess and distribute schedule II controlled substances, distribution of oxycodone and failing to report he’d filled a prescription.

A spokesperson for the city declined comment, but did say no action is currently being contemplated. An indictment is merely an accusation, and the city’s charter doesn’t mandate removal without conviction.

He and two women described by authorities as “his customers,” Angela “Angie” Davis, 50, of Bridgeport and her 23-year-old daughter, April, of Marietta, Georgia, were indicted by a federal grand jury in Martinsburg May 28.

The Davises allegedly conspired with Blount to distribute oxycodone and other prescription painkillers in the Bridgeport area beginning in the spring of 2011 and continuing through October. Angela Davis also is charged with trying to send her daughter a package of illegally acquired oxycodone via FedEx as well as attempted distribution of oxycodone.

The government alleges Blount illegally dispensed more than 11,000 oxycodone and oxymorphone pills over the course of the three-year investigation.

Drug enforcement professionals say that, generally speaking, illegal painkillers sell for about $1 per milligram. A 30-milligram oxycodone tablet, popular on the streets, typically sells for $30-$45 a tablet. Oxymorphone, or Opana, can sell for as much as $50-$60 a pill. That would put the proceeds from the alleged illegal sales into the hundreds of thousands of dollars over the course of the investigation, which one agent indicated began 10 months ago.

“We have one of the highest mortality rates for drug overdoses in the country — according to some studies, we are No. 1,” U.S. Attorney William J. Ihlenfeld II said. “The people who are dying of drug overdoses are dying primarily from prescription drugs, but heroin is right behind it. They might even be neck-and-neck now; heroin is shooting up the charts.

“The pills are connected to heroin — people can’t get pills, they can’t afford them or just can’t access them, so they’ll turn to heroin because they need it to function.”

Ihlenfeld said the investigation, which is ongoing, began in 2011 when the Greater Harrison County Drug and Violent Crimes Task Force received a spate of complaints about a Fairmont physician, Dr. Edita Milan.

Milan, indicted in July 2013, was charged with conspiring to distribute controlled substances. Eight others were indicted — five of them in July, including several of her office workers, and three others in September.

At least five of Milan’s alleged co-conspirators already have accepted plea deals. Milan, 74, is slated to go to trial, although a date has not been set.

An affidavit filed with the court indicates callers complained Milan was over-prescribing narcotics to patients, she was prescribing painkillers without seeing patients in the normal course of a legitimate medical practice and that some of her employees were diverting controlled substances through improper prescribing practices.

Investigators tracking Milan’s DEA number registration showed roughly 29,000 prescriptions for controlled substances written to some 800 individuals from 2010 to 2013. About 665 of those prescriptions were written in the names of two of her employees and four of their family members, they said.

“Dr. Milan came to our attention before Mario Blount did,” Ihlenfeld said. “Dr. Milan was on our radar due to information we received from a lot of different sources ... the way a drug task force works, it gets information from all segments of society and often times we become aware of physicians who may not be playing by the rules. That pointed us in her direction, and as the task force began looking at her and executing search warrants ... it became apparent that a large number of her patients had died from drug overdoses.

“That caused a lot of concern; we realized a lot of her patients were dying. After taking a closer look, it was alleged she might have been practicing outside the scope of her (legitimate) medical practice, improperly prescribing prescription painkillers, improperly prescribing combinations of drugs that shouldn’t be combined or prescribing an inordinately large amount of prescription painkillers.”

The same investigation that led to the indictment of Milan prompted authorities to raid three pharmacies, all part of the Best Care chain, in Bridgeport, Lumberport and Belington in October.

“We became aware of possible problems with the way Mario Blount was practicing pharmacy,” Ihlenfeld said. “We began to take a closer look at his practices to see if there was anything there.”

Ihlenfeld said investigators, in fact, sifted through more than 2 million documents seized during the raids at Best Care and Milan’s office.

He said it’s possible, though by no means certain, that more arrests will be made as a result of the ongoing investigation.

“It’s hard to say at this point in time,” he said. “It’s an ongoing investigation; we are still looking at evidence that has been recovered since (the raid) ... It’s one of those cases where every time we reach what we think is going to be the end of the road, we end up going on a side road in a different direction.

“Just as we think we reached the end, we uncover more information that shows it may be more wide-ranging that we initially thought. New information comes to light — new information has already come to light since (the press conference).”

Ihlenfeld said there will be no more arrests rising from the Blount and Davis indictment, “but we do expect you’ll hear from us again in matters related to this investigation. Maybe what we’re seeing doesn’t rise to the level of criminal conduct, maybe it does. We’ll pursue it.”

Blount was taken into custody without incident June 3 at the pharmacy where he works in Bridgeport. Ihlenfeld said Blount, if convicted, faces up to 20 years in prison on the conspiracy and distribution charges and up to 4 years on the failure to report a prescription charge. Angela Davis and April Davis each face up to 20 years in prison.