Frank D. Lazzerini has been indicted on 272 counts, with two counts alleging involuntary manslaughter.

CANTON  The day before the second anniversary of a police raid on his office, Stark County physician Dr. Frank D. Lazzerini was arrested Friday on nearly 300 charges, including involuntary manslaughter in the death of two patients.

Lazzerini is accused of operating a "pill mill" out of his office in Jackson Township.

The 95-page, 272-count secret indictment by a Stark County grand jury made public Friday alleges he trafficked in almost two dozen medications, including opioids, sedatives, anti-anxiety pills, non-opioid painkillers, a steroid and stimulants used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

On Thursday night, Lazzerini told The Canton Repository: "The good news is I haven't been charged with anything. But the bad news is I haven't been cleared either."

He was taken into custody about 10:15 Friday morning, his two years in limbo ending when Stark County sheriff's deputies found him at his father's home in Akron, according to jail records.

Lazzerini, 40, of Barberton, was booked into the jail and is being held without bond. He is due to appear for his arraignment in Stark County Common Pleas at 10 a.m. Friday before Judge Kristin Farmer.

Lazzerini's medical license has been suspended since June 2016 as part of a consent agreement after police two years ago today raided his Jackson Township office as they investigated whether he was over-prescribing pain medication.

Read the 96-page indictment ...

 

The felony charges in addition to manslaughter include: one count each of engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, telecommunications fraud, grand theft, Medicaid fraud, tampering with records; nine counts of aggravated drug trafficking with major drug offender specifications; 81 counts of aggravated drug trafficking; 89 counts of drug trafficking and 86 counts of illegal processing of drug documents, which is writing improper prescriptions.

Serious allegations

Stark County Prosecutor John Ferrero denied his office was piling on charges to pressure Lazzerini to agree to a plea.

"It probably could have been more," he said, adding his office hasn't yet totaled the maximum sentence possible if Lazzerini were convicted. "I'm sure it's a pretty high figure."

Ferrero said the maximum sentences for the involuntary manslaughter charges alone are 11 years each.

He accused Lazzerini of "operating a pill mill where he was prescribing these opiates for the sake of making money" and seeking improper reimbursement from Medicaid.

Ferrero said an investigation by the Stark County Coroner's Office helped show Lazzerini's improper prescriptions resulted in the deaths of Jaimie Hayhurst in August 2014 and Nathaniel Carder in December 2014.

In December 2015, the husband of Hayhurst, and in December 2016, the widow of William P. Lynch, filed wrongful death suits and medical malpractice suits against Lazzerini. They charged improper medical treatment resulted in Hayhurst and Lynch's deaths. However, both plaintiffs, likely because of the bankruptcy and pending criminal investigation, withdrew their lawsuits, reserving the option to re-file them.

Ferrero said the Ohio Board of Pharmacy, Jackson Township Police, the Stark County Metropolitan Narcotics Unit, the Ohio Attorney General's Office, the Ohio Medical Board, the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration assisted with the investigation.

Ferrero said he does not expect federal charges to be filed at this time.

In February 2016, Jackson Township police, assisted by agents of other law enforcement agencies, raided Lazzerini's office, known as Premier Family Practice, at 7452 Fulton Drive NW, and seized computers and medical records. He was not arrested or charged then. Ferrero said FBI agents helped provide information to support the law enforcement agencies' request to a judge to approve the search warrant.

Years in limbo

Lazzerini, in an agreement with the State Medical Board of Ohio in June 2016, agreed to an indefinite suspension of his medical license. He cannot apply for reinstatement unless he's exonerated.

In August 2016, Lazzerini filed for bankruptcy at the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Akron. Five months later, Lazzerini contacted The Repository, seeking an article about his situation.

"I was never anything but a good doctor who took care of poor people and I think I'm getting a bum rap here," Lazzerini said then, adding he was painting houses to make ends meet. "I never gave a prescription to anybody who wasn't a patient of mine and didn't need it. ... So basically I'm under a consent agreement until the investigation is over, and the investigation will never end, even though they've done everything they can do. ... I'm basically stuck. I really haven't had any opportunity to defend myself. ... I treated a lot of the indigent patients nobody else wanted to see. And I was trying to do everything, including pain management under one roof. ... I always treated the patients and gave them what they needed."

Less than three hours before his arrest Friday morning, Lazzerini left a voicemail message with a Repository reporter. He said a doctor and attorney John Irwin of Chagrin Falls, whom he described as his counsel, had advised him not to comment publicly.

"Basically, we're trying to get a resolution to this situation so that I may be reinstated and go back to work as a doctor," he said in the message. "As it's been two years, and I'm unemployed. So I can't say anything further. I can't be on the record. But we hopefully, we'll be done with this situation soon. Take care and God bless."

Investigation took time

Ferrero said it took two years to obtain the indictment because law enforcement and prosecutors had to go through a voluminous amount of patient records obtained in the raid. They also had to communicate with several different government agencies.  Another reason for the delay was Lazzerini dismissed his attorneys, about three or four, which slowed discussions of a possible plea deal, Ferrero said.

Lazzerini even tried to contact Ferrero in an apparent effort to clear himself, but Ferrero said ethics rules prohibited him and his staff from speaking with him rather than with his attorney.

The county prosecutor declined to say when and how Lazzerini came to law enforcement's attention. But he said investigators reviewed the doctor's records from Jan. 1, 2013 to Feb. 17, 2016.

He said one reason for the opiate crisis is some doctors have overprescribed opiates for pain relief to drum up business and revenue. Patients then got addicted to the medication and when they lost access to it, they sought dangerous, illegal opioid drugs and many died from overdoses.

Ferrero declined to say if any of Lazzerini's patients had ended up using illegal opioid drugs. But he said he did not anticipate filing any charges soon in the case against anyone else.

"We have to stop people who are doing this. We're not saying all the physicians do this. This was one rogue physician in our mind who was doing this in our county. We needed to do something and we did," Ferrero said.

He added Lazzerini's arrest is "not going to end the overdose deaths overnight, but it could help and make sure doctors are more careful about how they prescribe these drugs in the future."

It was not clear Friday if Lazzerini had hired Irwin to be his attorney. Irwin could not be reached for comment. Ferrero said no one who said they legally represented Lazzerini had contacted his office the past two months.

Ferrero said since Lazzerini's medical license was suspended, he had been working as a painter with his father's business.

"Getting back his medical license is the least of his worries at this point in time," Ferrero said. "He's facing some serious charges here and he better confront that first."

Robert Wang can be reached at 330-580-8327 or robert.wang@cantonrep.com.

On Twitter: @rwangREP

Repository writers Ed Balint and Shane Hoover contributed to this report.