A Rossville woman convicted of running a "pill mill" from two Chattanooga pain clinics she operated was sentenced Thursday to the absolute maximum: 280 years in federal prison.
Barbara Lang, aka "Aunt Bea," was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Curtis Collier. A jury found Lang, 61, guilty on 21 counts after a 25-day trial in January. Those included two counts of conspiring to distribute and dispense Schedule II and IV controlled substances, outside the scope of professional practice and not for a legitimate medical purpose; five counts of maintaining a premises for the purpose of distributing controlled substances; and 14 counts of structuring financial transactions to evade reporting requirements, according to a news release from U.S. Attorney Bill Killian.
Lang's attorney, Bryan Hoss, of the Davis and Hoss firm, said Friday his client will appeal both her conviction and the sentence, which he called "one of the most severe sentences doled out in federal court that I've seen in the last 15 years, to a 61-year-old grandmother with no criminal record."
Three other people have pleaded guilty in the case. Lang's daughter, Faith Blake, will be sentenced Oct. 1. She pleaded guilty to illegally distributing drugs through the Superior One medical clinic she operated with her mother as well as another clinic, Elite Care, she operated. She also pleaded guilty to obstructing the Internal Revenue Service and to failure to appear in court.
Dr. Jerome Sherard, Superior One's medical director, was sentenced to five years in prison after pleading guilty to distributing drugs through Superior One and his own Sherard Clinic. Sherard was also ordered to forfeit $192,956.31 to the United States, according to Killian's release.
Charles Larmore, a nurse practitioner who worked for Lang at Superior One and another clinic, Primary Care, pleaded guilty to conspiring to illegally distribute drugs. He was sentenced to 13 years in prison, fined $20,000 and ordered to forfeit $375,829.20 to the United States.
At Lang's trial, witnesses testified about making up injuries and being handed prescriptions for narcotic painkillers in large amounts. There was testimony that the clinics ranked in 11th place among 20,000 prescribers in Tennessee for the amount of narcotics prescribed, and that the pill mills generated more than $4 million during the months they were in operation.
Prosecutors said Lang failed to report $175,000 to the IRS, and investigators found another $243,333 in cash at her house, according to trial testimony.
"We are very pleased with this very lengthy sentence given to this defendant, who disbursed these very addictive drugs to many people over a long period of time," Killian said in the release. "Illegal opioid pain medication distribution organizations, such as this, contribute to an epidemic of addiction in the United States. She will never be able to participate in the illegal distribution of prescription drugs again."
But Hoss maintained that Lang was nothing more than "a glorified landlord or HR manager" for the clinics who didn't know the prescriptions being handed out were illegal.
"It's very disheartening when the prescribing professionals, the doctors and the nurse practitioners, get sentenced to substantially less time than what she got," Hoss said.
" Her sentence is 56 times greater than Dr. Sherard. It's crazy; it's absolutely crazy. We plan on appealing this thing and doing everything in our power to change what is one of the most unfair results I've seen since I started practicing law, in my opinion."