Search warrant executed

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 31, 2003

Federal, state and local law enforcement officials descended upon the Iron Rock Medical Center along State Route 93 late Thursday morning armed with a federal search warrant.

The warrant was

issued as part of an ongoing criminal investigation of alleged improper distribution of pain medication.

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According to a release from the Lawrence County Sheriff's Office, the FBI and the U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of Ohio, can confirm that a federal search warrant was executed at the clinic.

The search warrant and the affidavit supporting it have been ordered sealed by a federal judge in Cincinnati, said Fred Alverson, law enforcement coordinator for the U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of Ohio. No charges have been filed at this time and no arrests have been made, he said.

Any gathered evidence will be sent to a federal grand jury in Cincinnati which will determine if criminal charges are warranted. Owners, workers, customers and anyone else allegedly involved in any criminal activity could be charged, Alverson said.

Because the circumstances surrounding the search constitute a continuing criminal investigation, no further information will be given at this time, the sheriff's office release stated.

"I apologize for that fact," Sheriff Tim Sexton said. "I can say that I am extremely pleased with the cooperation that has occurred.

"We've heard the complaints from the local community and we have listened. I would love to sit and talk about this very openly, but I cannot jeopardize an ongoing criminal investigation."

Sexton would neither confirm nor deny whether or not the facility would be closed down.

Since opening in the spring of 2002, numerous complaints have been made about the facility and law enforcement officials have kept a close eye on it, Sexton said. Residents in the clinic's vicinity attended a county commission meeting shortly after it opened, expressing fears that the clinic would be a "prescription factory" catering to substance abusers and drug peddlers. Their complaints included people staggering into the middle of the road who were nearly struck by motorists, heavy traffic and people milling around on the sidewalk.

That same month, Sexton said he spoke with a Portsmouth attorney who identified himself as Gary Billiter, vice-president of the company operating the clinic, who assured Sexton the clinic would not be a nuisance. However, Sexton questioned why a legitimate clinic would need security guards and require patients to pay $250 up front to see a physician. The clinic also did not accept Medicare or insurance and the small clinic in rural Lawrence County drew in numerous patients from Kentucky, West Virginia and other Ohio counties, were a few of the other things Sexton found questionable.

In May 2002, Billiter submitted a written response to questions from an Ironton Tribune reporter, but some questions were not answered. Billiter wrote that the clinic's purpose was to provide the best treatment available at reasonable costs to patients "medically determined" to have a need for the clinic's services. The clinic is owned by Rocky Road Enterprises, which is licensed to do business in the state of Ohio.

The next month, Billiter filed a $10 million lawsuit against the Lawrence County Sheriff's Department. In this suit, he alleged that Sexton and his deputies had made defamatory statements about the clinic and interfered with the clinic's ability to operate as a business. The Lawrence County Board of Commissioners were also named as defendants. On

Oct. 10, 2002, Billiter requested the lawsuit be dismissed and did not give a reason why when contacted by The Ironton Tribune.

The sight of the clinic's entrance lined with police cruisers was a welcome one to several locals. Numerous motorists honked their horns, waved at county sheriff's deputies and even cheered. Employees and customers at the neighboring Rich Oil station expressed satisfaction. A Rock Hill school bus stopped to let the children on board give the authorities a boisterous standing ovation.

"I am extremely pleased," said Mick Hairston, assistant principal at Rock Hill Middle School. "I want to commend the sheriff's department for a job well done. We don't need this in our community."

The clinic was located near the Rock Hill schools and Hairston's home. Many students in the district live even closer to it, he said. While principal at the former Rock Hill Elementary No. 3, parents frequently expressed concern about the alleged activity at the clinic. After he began his new job at the middle school, children were the ones expressing concern. He said he was also tired of driving by the clinic with his daughter in the car, seeing some of the activity frequently reported.

"It was no secret," he said. "I'm sure a lot of the kids will go home today very happy. This says a lot about our kids. People say, 'This generation is full of drugs,' when 99 percent of them want to do right and see right done."