by Doug Brown
The federal government seized nearly five million dollars from more than a dozen bank accounts they say were used by a Solon doctor accused of drug trafficking and money laundering. He had been churning out painkiller prescriptions to people he barely examined, they say, oftentimes seeing up to 80 cash-paying patients per day for just minutes at a time. Oxycodone, morphine, Oxymorphone, Hydrocodone: all the good stuff people get hooked on.
Dr. Syed J. Akhtar-Zaidi, who ran the Pain Management of Northern Ohio clinic in Solon, became a DEA target in September 2012 when five undercover agents began showing up, posing as patients in moderate, but never severe, pain.
The doctor charged each undercover agent $300 on their first visit and $95 when they'd show up again for more pills; everything paid to the clinic was in cash. On their first visits, Zaidi "performed at best a cursory examination and then prescribed Schedule II and II pain medication drugs to treat the claimed condition," the forfeiture complaint says.
Then, "during subsequent visits, the undercover officers would request higher dosages or more habit-forming drugs. In response to those requests, Zaidi would oblige the undercover officers by prescribing increasingly more habit-forming drugs without conducting a thorough medical examination," it says. Here are some details:
Undercover officers were each seen by Zaidi on five or six occasions between September of 2012 and May of 2013. Zaidi spent, on average, only three minutes with each of the undercover officers during visits to PMNO. Zaidi never required the undercover officers to obtain an MRI, an x-ray, or attend physical therapy. ... In no case did any of the undercover officers ever claim unbearable pain, the undercover officers having reported the pain to be no more than a four on a pain scale of one to ten, with ten being the worst. Zaidi continued to prescribe Schedule II and Schedule III pain medication drugs even though the undercover officers would report as low as two on the pain scale during many of their visits.
The complaint lays out what the doctor prescribed three of the undercover agents:
*Agent #1, for a claim of "nagging stiffness/discomfort in the officer's back during a four month period": 308 tablets of Percocet, 84 tablets of 10-mg Oxycontin and 126 tablets of 15-mg Oxycontin.
*Agent #2, for a claim of "nagging stiffness/discomfort in the officer's back during a six month period": 434 tablets of Percocet, 84 tablets of 10-mg Oxycontin and 84 tablets of 15-mg OxyContin.
*Agent #3, for a claim of "a dull ache in the left knee during a four month period": 224 tablets of Vicodin and 224 tablets of Percocet.
Agents also reviewed the doctor's sign-in sheets: "it was not uncommon for Zaidi to see as many as 60 to 80 patients a day. On at least one occasion during this period, Zaidi saw 92 patients during a single day."
The Ohio Pharmacy Board's automated prescription reporting system shows that from September 2011 through September 2013, prescribed: "Oxycodone products totaling 1,131,920 dosage units, morphine products totally 217,897 dosage units, and oxymorphone products totaling 150,803 dosage units. These three controlled substances are highly abused controlled substances."
The feds also reviewed Zaidi's finances, alleging his personal bank accounts, accounts belonging to the clinic and accounts in his wife's name were used to launder the cash he was getting with the clinic. Here's how they say he did it:
Zaidi conducted a complex series of financial transactions involving co-mingling of funds amongst the Defendant accounts, in an effort to disguise the true source of the illicit proceeds, that being Zaidi's drug trafficking activity.
Zaidi violated federal criminal statutes and the proceeds generated through his practice at PMNO are therefore illicit. The pattern of activity amongst his accounts is a traditional method of laundering criminal proceeds. More specifically, the illicit funds were placed within one of the numerous financial accounts, then moved to multiple other accounts to create confusion as to the original source of the funds, that is Zaidi's drug trafficking activity. Ultimately, the proceeds were funneled to money market accounts and/or Ameriprise investment portfolios and/or Genworth financial retirement account controlled by Zaidi where they could continue to accrue value based upon market performance, then redeemed as dividend payments thus, successfully "laundering" the criminal proceeds and allowing for "clean" integration back into the financial system.
Zaidi maintained and/or controlled at least twelve bank accounts with two banks, at least three investment portfolios with Ameriprise Financial, and one retirement account with Genworth. All Defendant accounts are linked together in that they were used to facilitate monetary transactions which resulted in the laundering of proceeds from Zaidi's drug trafficking activity. Between 2010 and 2013, the proceeds circulating through the four PMNO business accounts (two checking, two money markets) from both First Merit Bank and PNC Bank exceeded $9,800,000 in deposits and exceeds $9,500,00 in withdrawals.
Agents seized those accounts in October, and it just became public record now. They also conducted a search warrant on his house in Solon, and seized $90,000 in jewelry they say was purchased with the drug trafficking money. All the money and jewelry are not in possession of the federal government.
Read the full forfeiture complaint here: