Former North Carolina doctor who operated ‘pill mill’ sentenced to more than six years in prison

Published 8:25 am Sunday, April 17, 2022

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A former doctor who operated a “pill mill” in Columbus County, where he improperly prescribed opioids and other controlled substances, was sentenced on Thursday, April 7, 2022 to 78 months in prison for unlawfully distributing oxycodone, hydrocodone, methadone and marijuana, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Eastern District of North Carolina.

According to court documents, John Whan Kim, 75, and co-defendant Tammy Thompson were charged with violating federal drug trafficking laws in a second superseding indictment. Thompson, pleaded guilty to multiple counts and is scheduled to be sentenced later this year. Kim pleaded guilty on December 28, 2021 to conspiracy to unlawfully distribute a quantity of oxycodone, hydrocodone, methadone and marijuana in violation of 21 U.S.C. §846, multiple counts of unlawful dispensation and distribution of oxycodone in violation of 21 U.S.C. §841(a)(1) and distribution of marijuana and aiding and abetting, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §841(a)(1) and 18 U.S.C. §2. Kim was also required to surrender all medical licenses and is prohibited from ever practicing medicine again, according to the release.

“In March of 2017, Kim was forced to resign from the medical practice where he was previously employed due to concerns over his prescribing practices, particularly opioids,” stated the release. “Kim proceeded to establish his own clinic in Tabor City, NC and from October 2017 to June 28, 2018, Kim unlawfully and improperly prescribed opioids and other controlled substances to ‘patients’ who paid $200 cash at each appointment.

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“The investigation revealed that Kim often failed to meet the basic standards of legitimate medical care,” the release continued. “Kim wrote controlled substance prescriptions to virtually every patient he saw, often despite not having a patient’s prior medical records, not conducting a real physical examination or considering alternative treatments, and often despite having evidence of patient misuse and diversion.”

According to the release, word of Kim’s willingness to improperly prescribe controlled substances spread quickly and people came from across eastern North Carolina and other states to get prescriptions from him.

“The volume of patients and associated activity that often took place in the parking lot of Kim’s clinic created safety concerns for the adjacent Tabor City Elementary School, which was forced to restrict outdoor activities for students until a privacy fence was constructed,” stated the release. “In January 2018, a confidential source began conducting a series of controlled purchases from Kim and Thompson, which were audio and video recorded. On June 29, 2018, search warrants were executed at Kim’s clinic and residence and Kim and Thompson were arrested. A medical expert who reviewed Kim’s records found no evidence that Kim was providing real medical care and concluded that Kim was merely exchanging prescriptions for money.”

“The defendant abused his position as a doctor to illegally distribute opioids, jeopardizing the safety of the community and the school adjacent to his office,” said Michael Easley, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina. “My office will continue to collaborate with law enforcement at all levels to dismantle criminal organizations that are contributing to the drug problems in eastern North Carolina.”

“When Dr. Kim dispensed nearly 2 million doses of addictive prescription medications under the guise of a doctor’s care, it was not about the good of the community or an individual’s specific health needs – it was about his selfishness and greed,” said Robert J. Murphy, the special agent in charge of the DEA Atlanta Field Division. “DEA and its law enforcement partners will continue to stem the tide against the growing opioid epidemic. Dr. Kim will now serve a lengthy sentence in federal prison.”

Easley made the announcement after sentencing by U.S. District Judge Louise W. Flanagan. The Drug Enforcement Administration’s Charlotte Tactical Diversion Squad, Columbus County Sheriff’s Office and the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation, DECU investigated the case and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Nick Miller, Bryan Stephany and Tim Severo prosecuted.