For the first time, the breadth of a case federal drug enforcement officers in Kentucky are apparently building against Oneida physician Dr. Bruce Coffey was laid open last week, following the revelation of court documents tied to the feds’ efforts to seize $1.6 million in cash from Coffey and his businesses.
The court documents, which were filed in U.S. District Court in London, Ky., in late December and came to light in reporting by the Lexington Herald-Leader last week, are tied to a June 2018 raid on Coffey Family Medical Clinic and Life Choices Wellness Clinic, both of which were owned by the prominent Oneida physician.
On June 12, 2018, scores of agents with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) from London, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and the Tennessee Highway Patrol swarmed Coffey’s busy medical clinic in south Oneida, along with the wellness clinic just off Main Street.
Federal agents offered little insight on the raid at the time, though the Independent Herald reported in June 2018 that the raid was apparently tied to a lengthy investigation into opioid overdose deaths in southeastern Kentucky. That investigation had been ongoing for more than a year when search warrants were executed on the Oneida businesses.
As the Independent Herald also reported at the time, no one was taken into custody as a part of the raid, and no charges were immediately filed. However, Coffey — who has practiced medicine in Scott County since 1976 — did not return to work when the clinic reopened the following day.
Coffey Family Medical Clinic went on to close in August 2019 after its managing company — South Carolina-based Oaktree Medical Centre PC, a manager of pain clinics, was accused of millions of dollars in health fraud.
The December court filings revealed that feds seized $1.6 million in cash from several accounts related to Coffey, his son, Dr. Brandon Coffey, and his businesses at the time of the raid. Also seized were two Mercedes-Benz cars belonging to Coffey. Since that time, the cash and vehicles have been in the custody of U.S. Marshals in London, Ky. On December 23, the last day to do so, the federal government filed a petition for the assets to be forfeited by the Coffeys, stating that they were tied to drug trafficking.
Gregory P. Isaacs, Coffey’s attorney, told the Lexington newspaper that it is “significant to note that Dr. Coffey has not been charged with any crime.” And the forfeiture motion was filed in civil court; it is not a criminal matter.
However, federal authorities also made it clear in the court filings that they’re pursuing a criminal case. An affidavit filed by DEA Special Agent Shawn W. Rogers painted a stunning set of allegations against Coffey and his former medical practice as Rogers laid out the facts of his case to support the forfeiture of Coffey’s assets.
In the affidavit, Rogers said that Coffey and his clinic were identified as part of an investigation into drug trafficking in southeastern Kentucky — including McCreary and Pulaski counties — by the DEA, TBI and Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office.
The clinic, Rogers said, was “responsible for millions of Schedule II controlled substances being prescribed illegitimately to Kentucky and Tennessee patients.”
He went on to allege that law enforcement, during the course of their investigation, uncovered drug trafficking operations in McCreary, Pulaski and Russell counties that used the Coffey medical clinic as their primary source of supply for opioids.
The affidavit claimed that “Coffey Family Medical Clinic operates to make money by writing illegitimate prescriptions to high volumes of patients while trying to maintain the appearance of a legitimate practice,” and includes damning statements from multiple employees of the clinic.
One such employee allegedly told investigators that Coffey provided pre-signed prescriptions for controlled substances that could be distributed to patients when he was not at the clinic. If the staff ran out of pre-signed prescriptions, the affidavit claimed, staff members could take blank prescriptions to Coffey at his farm, where he would sign them.
Another employee, who worked at both the medical clinic and a Suboxone clinic operated by Coffey — Nu Me Med Spa — allegedly told investigators that Coffey gave employees instructions not to allow authorities to review patient records.
“If DEA (agents) came to the clinic when he was not there, they were instructed to call him and he would sneak in the back door,” Rogers wrote in the warrant. Further, it was alleged, nurses signed Coffey’s initials to patients’ electronic medical assessments.
Rogers wrote that the investigation had included an analysis of the airline travel records for both Coffey and his sons, and found that pain medication was prescribed to patients at the clinic while the doctors were traveling outside Tennessee.
Through interviews with staff, authorities said the clinic routinely saw up to 200 patients in a day. Cash-paying patients were charged $250 for their initial visit and $88 for subsequent visits, the affidavit detailed.
Further, Rogers stated that he had interviewed two Kentucky pharmacists, both from Pulaski County, who told him they had previously contacted the DEA with concerns about Coffey’s practices of prescribing controlled substances. One said he had been suspicious of Coffey since about 2014 or 2015, when he overheard patients saying they would go to Coffey Family Medical Clinic because other doctors would not give them what they want.
The investigation included interviews with patients of the medical clinic. Among them: A patient who was stopped by Oneida police in August 2017 as he traveled to an appointment with Coffey and was found in possession of a large amount of crystal methamphetamine, along with an oxycodone tablet and a bottle of urine. He allegedly told investigators that he has been seeing Coffey every two weeks for 10 years, receiving prescription for 56 oxycodone pills and blood pressure medication at each visit.
Another man was arrested for drug trafficking and allegedly found to be filling prescriptions for hydrocodone that had been written by Coffey. Creech allegedly told authorities that he had been a patient of Coffey’s for 18 months, and that he had diverted some of the controlled substances prescribed by Coffey. He told investigators that on at least one visit to the clinic, he was informed that he had failed a drug screen, but was still given a prescription.
The informant told authorities that he had observed fellow patients visiting the medical clinic with other people’s urine, and that he had personally received a prescription for a controlled substance that was signed by Coffey even though he didn’t see Coffey that day.
Still another patient allegedly told authorities that Coffey told her he does procedures such as X-rays and drug screens to “keep (law enforcement) off my back.”
During the course of the investigation, law enforcement agents conducted 10 undercover operations at the Coffey medical clinic, where they allegedly observed six-hour wait times, hand-to-hand drug transactions, and drug traffickers operating on the grounds of the clinic. On three occasions, Rogers wrote, he observed suspected drug traffickers instructing individuals in the parking lot of the clinic about getting prescriptions for pain medications.
One of those undercover operations involved a TBI agent who allegedly overheard a drug trafficker talking to other patients about what to say to the doctor to get the prescriptions they needed. When the undercover agent was seen by a physician’s assistant, the employee allegedly did not perform a physical examination, and told the agent that the clinic has to go to lengths to avoid looking like a “pill-mill.” He allegedly wrote the agent a 14-day prescription for 56 hydrocodone pills and 90 gabapentin pills.
The TBI agent returned to the clinic on three other visits. On one occasion, he allegedly waited seven hours to be seen by one of the Coffeys for 50 seconds, and was given a prescription for 56 hydrocodone pills. During that visit, the agent allegedly overheard a woman telling a drug trafficker that another patient “did his job, he’s got the script…” and saw the man handing the trafficker a prescription bag as he exited the premises.
On another occasion, the agent allegedly heard a drug trafficker discussing another patient who “may not make her appointment that day,” which Rogers wrote was an indicator that the agent was sponsoring patients at the clinic, a practice in which drug-pushers recruit patients to help them accumulate a stockpile of pills.
The agent allegedly was seen by a doctor for 20 seconds on his third visit to the clinic and 65 seconds on a fourth visit. On each occasion, he was allegedly given a prescription for 56 hydrocodone pills.
In all, the DEA alleges that Coffey prescribed more than 4.9 million opioid pills from January 2010 through March 2018. That number does not include prescriptions written by other practitioners at Coffey Family Medical Clinic.
Of those prescriptions, more than one million, or 21 percent, were prescribed to patients with addresses in McCreary County.
Separate from Coffey Family Medical Clinic, the investigation encompassed the Life Choices clinic operated by Brandon and Alex Coffey. Rogers’ affidavit alleged that evidence had been uncovered that the clinic was “unlawfully prescribing and/or dispensing buprenorphine, a Schedule III narcotic used to treat drug addiction.
TBI investigators became involved, Rogers wrote, after the DEA received complaints from pharmacists in both Tennessee and Kentucky about a high number of buprenorphine prescriptions being written by the Coffeys. Law enforcement in Kentucky allegedly identified 10 patients who were diverting their buprenorphine to third party traffickers. Confidential sources allegedly confirmed to law enforcement that the Life Choices clinic prescribed buprenorphine without the required counseling or drug testing, and that patients exchanged urine with others in case they were subjected to drug testing.
During an undercover operation at the clinic in late 2017 and early 2018, a TBI agent allegedly inquired about enrolling in the Suboxone program and was advised that his fee would be $120 for an initial visit with three weekly follow-up visits for $90 each. If he was in compliance with the clinic’s policies after four visits, he was allegedly told, he could come once a month for $330.
As a bottom line to the affidavit, Rogers claimed that Coffey Family Medical Clinic “did not operate as a legitimate medical facility from at least 2012 until June 2018” (when the raid took place). Instead, he said, the clinic “repeatedly issued controlled substance prescriptions outside the course of professional practice and not for a legitimate prescription.” The clinic, he wrote, “engaged in a large-scale diversion of controlled substances by issuing prescriptions outside the scope of professional practice and not for a legitimate medical purpose, as well as laundered the proceeds of that drug trafficking.”
While no criminal charges have been filed, Rogers’ affidavit explicitly used the word “unlawful” to describe his investigation’s findings. And in a successful appeal for a 90-day stay on the forfeiture motion, federal prosecutor Robert Duncan said that “the United States is pursuing a criminal investigation of Coffey Family Medical Clinic, David Bruce Coffey, and their affiliates.”
The government requested the stay because allowing it to proceed “will adversely affect the ability of the government to conduct the related criminal investigation,” Duncan wrote. Allowing the case to proceed, he said, would jeopardize the criminal case by interfering with agents’ ongoing information gathering, exposing witnesses and revealing investigative strategies.