LILBURN, Ga. - A federal judge sentenced former Lilburn pain clinic doctor George Williams for his role in what prosecutors called "a classic pill mill."
At its height, the clinic attracted customers from as far away as West Virginia. The FOX 5 I-Team was there when state and federal authorities raided the place three years ago.
Dr. Williams said then he was not involving in any illegal activity. This month, he pled guilty to drug trafficking and money laundering charges. He will soon begin serving a seven-year sentence. Prosecutors said he helped provide pain medication to addicts and drug dealers.
Williams did not own or operate the clinic. Florida brothers Randy and Larry Webman did. They will also serve serious federal time -- Randy 11 years, Larry 10 years -- for the same crime.
"He didn't run the thing," Dr. Williams' defense attorney Page Pate emphasized. "He wasn't the motivation behind it. And he didn't set it up."
"But doctors are smart people," FOX 5 I-Team reporter Randy Travis pointed out. "They should know they're in the middle of a pill mill, right?"
"At some point. And I think Dr. Williams came to that realization."
If so, federal authorities said he continued to dispense serious prescription pain medication without giving proper care to his patients. They said he saw as many as 60 patients a day, and even though he was trained as an OB/GYN, the FOX 5 I-Team saw just as many men showing up for an office visit when we watched the clinic in 2013. We also photographed a parking lot jammed with out-of-state cars. Patients told us they paid $300 cash to get their pain prescriptions with barely any examination at all.
"This one was sort of the classic pill mill," stressed US Attorney John Horn.
But defense attorney Pate said the law is still unclear over how much pain medication a doctor is allowed to prescribe before crossing the line.
Pate: "It's not black and white."
Randy: "Yet in this case you had people coming from all over the East Coast to this one little place in Lilburn. That's got to be a huge red flag for a doctor, right?"
Pate: "It is a red flag, but the reality is these pain clinics are getting shut down. And there are folks who have no ability to go to a pain clinic in their home state."
Even in Georgia, authorities said pill mills aren't nearly so easy to spot anymore. By law, any new pain clinic must now be owned by a doctor. A prescription drug monitoring program tracks how much a patient uses and a doctor prescribes. Proposed legislation will allow law enforcement easier access to track the outliers.
Exposing pill mills also requires intensive investigation. Drug Enforcement Agency officers made 36 undercover visits to Dr. Williams' clinic before they felt comfortable making the arrests.
And this case was considered one of the easier to prove.
"The truth of the matter is that prosecutions and jailing people's not going to solve the problem," US Attorney Horn pointed out. "But until we prosecute and convict some of the operators of pill mills, the message isn't going to get across that we don't want that kind of business in Georgia."