Drugs, money and politics: a look at the players in the Carmel drug raid
By Adam Aasen
In a recent article in the Current, Dr. Larry Ley boasted about his ability to heal the lives of addicts and keep them away from a life of drug dependency.”
“The answer isn’t arresting and sending them to jail. It’s treatment,” Ley said. “I’ve put more dealers out of business than any cop has.”
But now this Carmel-based addiction specialist has been sent to jail. He has allegedly been working as a drug pusher who ignored medical law in an elaborate, cash-only “pill mill” operation, according to Carmel police.
“We make no distinction between Dr. Ley and a drug dealer,” said Major Aaron Dietz, head of the Hamilton/Boone County Drug Task Force.
Authorities arrested 11 people as a part of the drug ring on Friday, including Andrew Dollard, an attorney who was hand picked by local Republican leaders as a recent candidate for Hamilton County Council in the May primaries.
According to the investigation report, Ley allegedly handed out prescriptions for Suboxone – an opiate used to treat addictions to painkillers or heroin – without obtaining medical histories or conducting urine tests. Numerous patients tell police that Ley would meet at odd hours to administer the medication, even meeting in a public park for the trade. He did not accept credit cards or insurance – cash or money order only. He allegedly had more patients than he was legally allowed to have and it is believed that some doctors working with him would pre-write prescriptions on pads without even entering the offices.
Dollard is accused of being the moneyman, according to the police report. Investigators witnessed this public defender spend hours at the treatment clinics and even state that they saw him meet with an unidentified man to convince him to join Ley’s business network by saying, “there was no competition, the business model was established and the office manager ran everything,” according to the report.
Two patients did, however, point out Dollard as the man who handed out their prescriptions.
It is unknown how much compensation Dollard received, but the recent political candidate did receive a $2,500 campaign contribution from Ley, and purchased a home from Ley for $155,800 when the assessed value was $425,000, as stated by a local home assessor.
At the same time, some doubt there are any dangers to taking Suboxone. While nobody doubts the drug’s addictive qualities, its defenders say you can’t get high off of Suboxone or easily abuse it. To them, it’s a tool to fight addiction, no different from a Nicotine patch.
Dietz said that there have been some reported deaths from Suboxone.Either way, this case appears to be a unique one. DEA officials said it might be the first of its kind nationwide.
In 2008, investigators began looking into the Drug & Opiate Recovery Network located at 23 East Main Street, Suite 200 in the Carmel Arts & Design District. It all started with an onsite regularly scheduled inspection that uncovered several code violations including failure to register clinics or maintain proper records. Officials urged Ley to fix the situation.
In 2011, Ley came back on investigators’ radars when an addiction doctor reported that he has heard complaints from his patients about their experiences at the DORN clinic and that they “didn’t fully feel like patients.”
One week later, another complaint from a former Ley patient was sent to authorities. This person, whose name was not released, said: “There was no exam. No urinalysis. I never even completed more than my name on my paperwork.”
One more week later, another addiction doctor told authorities he believed Ley was risking the long-term health of his patients by not doing proper follow-ups in person. The investigators delved deeper into the case and found more complaints from former patients and competing addiction doctors.
Investigators said that patients would pay $300 for an initial screening, which witnesses claim was a speech given by Ley, and then pay $80 for each follow-up visit, which they claim was handing over cash for the prescriptions, with no questions asked.
Former patient Stephen Mullanix, a 38-year-old male, was under the care of Ley, when he died on July 20, 2013 of gastro-intestinal bleeding and chronic alcohol abuse. It is alleged that Ley did not drug test Mullanix or provide any treatment support beyond giving him prescriptions for Suboxone. During his treatments, Mullanix continued to abuse substances while in the doctor’s care, which the family claims contributed to his death.
Last year, investigators began staking out the offices of DORN, which has locations in Carmel, Centerville, Noblesville and Kokomo. Ley has a related clinic called Living Life Clean in Muncie. Doctors Ronald Vierk, Luella Bangura and George Agapios, who were also arrested last week, assisted ley.
Authorities observed how many patients went in and out of the clinic. They claim to have observed doctors writing prescriptions “all day long” without ever seeing patients, and sometimes, patients were walking out with prescriptions when the doctor was not present in the office.
Following these findings, several undercover officers went into the clinics posing as patients. They said that none of them were given physical exam or drug tests before receiving prescriptions for Suboxone.
Before making the arrest, authorities showed the undercover video evidence to Dr. Tim King, a recognized Indiana pain expert, who concluded that, “The clinic was run as a pill-mill and lacked medical legitimacy.”
Another expert, Dr. R. Andrew Chambers, said he believed the doctors tried to, “maximize profits at the expense of clinical standards.”
Also facing charges are Derek Tislow, 41, of Avon; Cassy Linn Bratcher, 37, of Carmel; Yvonne Morgan, 61, of Eaton, OH; Jessica Callahan, 37, of Muncie; Eric Ley, 38, of Noblesville; and Felicia Reid, 26, of Carmel.
RELATIONSHIPS AND POLITICS
Months ago, Andrew Dollard was running for Hamilton County Council and approached Current in Carmel. He was interested in writing a column about crime and justice for the weekly community newspaper. And while the column never happened, Dollard urged editors to reach out to Dr. Ley as an expert in addiction for an article about rising heroin use in Carmel.
Around the same time, Dietz and his task force made opiate addiction a top issue in the media. A roundtable discussion brought together U.S. Rep. Susan Brooks, State Sen. Jim Merritt and other local politicians to discuss the issue. U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly wrote a column that ran in Current that touted his recent legislation that would develop, “best practices for prescribing pain medication and related pain management.”
Dollard and Ley considered themselves experts in this important issue facing Indiana. In the past, they spoke to Current for several hours about their viewpoints. Since their recent arrests they have not returned phone calls from Current.
“It was really rare to see someone from Carmel, Indiana, addicted to heroin a decade ago,” Ley said last year. “But now, truly, we are in the midst of a horrendous epidemic.”
Ley originally started off as urologist but became interested in addiction after dealing with his own battles with alcoholism in the 1990s. Ley surrendered his medical license in 1995 due to alcohol dependency and had his license reinstated in 2002.
The Southern District of Indiana Bankruptcy records indicate that Ley filed a voluntary Chapter 13 bankruptcy in 2000 with creditor claims totaling more than $96,000.
It’s hard to determine how much money Ley brought in with his clinics because all he accepted was cash or money orders, but February 2014 alone has bank deposits of over $400,000 for DORN or Ley.
It’s also unknown how far back his relationship goes with Dollard, although the former candidate previously told Current that he worked at a substance abuse clinic in Noblesville while commuting to Michigan to attend law school. Dollard was admitted to the bar in 2010.
Dollard’s focus has been criminal law. He was appointed as a public defender by Judge J. Richard Campbell, and when he spoke to Current previously he was interested in joining the political difference-makers in Hamilton County.
It is rumored that Peter Emigh, chair of the Hamilton County Republican Party, was a deciding factor in “picking” Dollard as the preferred “establishment” choice for the vacant council seat. Meredith Carter, who left the seat, endorsed Dollard, but many other Republican officials, including Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard decided to stay out of the race and not publicly take a side.
Emigh did not return calls or e-mails for comment, but referred the issue to Andrew Greider, executive director of the Hamilton County Republican Party.
“There was no indication that anything like this would have come out before the election,” Greider said. “And since he lost the election, there is no association or connection between Dollard and the Hamilton County Republican Party.”
Greider said the party itself never officially endorsed anyone in the primary, but Emigh or any officials are free to individually back anyone they want.
Dollard ended up losing to Fred Glynn, who emphasized his fiscal conservatism. It was a very heated and contentious race that led to some nasty comments.
Glynn told the Current on Friday that he always heard rumors about Dollard’s business practices, but he was shocked to hear these accusations come to light.
“I would never have expected anything like this,” he said.
John Accetturo, a former Carmel City Councilor who ran against Dollard in the county council primary, said this shows why party officials need to really look at the candidates they choose to back.
“Unfortunately, my reaction to it is that if these accusations are correct, it’s kind of a shame that an individual that has a lot of potential and a lot of ability got involved in something like this,” he said. “It’s also unfortunate that we don’t vet these candidates thoroughly enough.”
Accetturo said he had many conversations with Dollard but he never mentioned anything about his associations with DORN or his experience in that field.
Jennifer Sullivan, a former patient of Ley’s, told the Current she was taken aback by her experience with Dollard, who she believes had no education or background in addiction recovery.
“He had no business being there,” she said, of a time when Dollard was apparently very involved in the distributions of the clinic’s drugs.
Major Dietz said he expects to find more about their business relationship when authorities go through a forensic investigation of their computer files.
Despite all of the evidence compiled by investigators, many people are convinced that Ley, Dollard and their associates did nothing wrong.
Their defenders claim that Ley might have been made a target because he was often critical of drug investigations and the policies of the war on drugs. He spoke out against incarceration as means of dealing with drug crimes.
His former patients point out that many doctors who prescribe Suboxone will not accept insurance and many insurance providers will not cover it.
Ley was also a major supporter of the use of Suboxone, while many clinics in Indiana still rely on methadone as a treatment.
Their defenders point out that much of the evidence against Ley comes from statements from unidentified patients and doctors who could view him as competition.
But Dietz wholeheartedly disagrees with those statements.
“He was a dealer, plain and simple,” he said.
Fairbanks, the nationally recognized addiction recovery center in Indianapolis, regularly administers Suboxone as a treatment.
Robin Parsons, director of adult services at Fairbanks, said there are a lot of misconceptions about the drug. She said Suboxone should not give someone a euphoric high because there is a chemical that blocks those receptors. Patients are going to become physically dependent on it. It is administered often as a dissolvable strip and it’s very difficult to break down its time release or modify the drug.
“I’m sure there are ways to abuse Suboxone, but it’s less likely,” she said. “Anyone who is abusing drugs wouldn’t use this for a recreational high.”
Parsons said she hasn’t heard of any cases of anyone overdosing or dying on the drug, but doesn’t deny that’s a possibility.
Dietz said claims you can overdose Suboxone if you take too much of it. More importantly, accountability is needed from doctors, he said, because it can be “very dangerous.”
“Obviously, Suboxone isn’t as serious as heroin, but it still has addictive qualities,” Dietz said. “So you aren’t ending the cycle of addiction.”
Sullivan, a Carmel resident, said she was outraged at some of the misleading media coverage surrounding this case. She isn’t defending Ley, but wants people to know that Suboxone is an effective drug for treating addiction and not the extremely addicting “synthetic heroin” that some have described it as.
Sullivan said that she went to Ley, and could tell it was a “barely legitimate,” office. She said she wanted help with her addiction and she felt that she didn’t get the treatment she deserved.
“It’s absolutely sickening the level that they take advantage of people,” she said.
She said she wasn’t drug tested, which she says is serious because anyone who tries to use drugs while on Suboxone will get sick. She called his practice, “a joke.”
But at the same time, Sullivan hopes that people don’t start cracking down on Suboxone just because a certain doctor was accused of mishandling its application.
“There are tons of ex-patients of Dr. Ley and these people need somewhere to go,” she said.
This article will be updated. If you or someone you know has any information about this investigation, please contact Adam Aasen at Adam@youarecurrent.com.