Next to Déjà Vu strip club, on the corner of McGavock Street and 13th Avenue in downtown Nashville, cars fill the parking lot of a nondescript building. The structure houses Back to Wellness, a state-certified pain management clinic that opened in February.
And while signage on the building advertises acupuncture, massage therapy and other forms of pain relief, federal court documents indicate the clinic may be doing more than just giving back rubs.
Money orders and cash totaling nearly $100,000 were seized from the business by federal authorities in May. The money was allegedly involved in “a financial transaction representing the proceeds of drug trafficking.”
State business filings connect Nashville’s Back to Wellness to Ronald Colandrea Jr., a man indicted by federal authorities in Georgia for allegedly operating a pill mill in Brunswick, Ga., that distributed more than a million dosages of oxycodone in an eight-month period.
The Knoxville News Sentinel outlined Ronald Colandrea’s practices in a 2011 article on opposition to his business in East Tennessee. The article noted that Colandrea’s clinic had to move several times due to complaints from neighbors about crowds.
Colandrea told the News Sentinel that he planned to open another clinic in Tennessee but declined to give the location. Filings with the Tennessee Secretary of State show that Back to Wellness moved from Knoxville to the McGavock Street location in October 2011.
Federal authorities in Nashville also seized more than $68,000 from a bank account connected to an entity called Giden Management — which lists its address as a high-rise condo in the Gulch. The registered agent for the company is Denise Colandrea.
The criminal indictment against Colandrea was unsealed in U.S. District Court of Southern Georgia in April. In August, prosecutors filed a superseding indictment naming three doctors and an alleged accomplice in the drug trafficking.
A month later, the civil forfeiture complaint against Back to Wellness was filed in the U.S. District Court of Middle Tennessee. In addition to more than $150,000, federal authorities also seized a Hummer SUV and Harley-Davidson motorcycle from a home in the Nevada Heights area of West Nashville.
U.S. District Court criminal chief Jimmie Lynn Ramsaur declined to comment on whether there was a pending criminal case targeting Back to Wellness or any of its agents.
Under Tennessee law, pain management clinics are privately owned facilities run by a board-certified doctor who provides prescriptions for pain-relieving drugs. However, some facilities, referred to as “pill mills,” dole out addictive medicine to patients who don’t exhibit symptoms requiring the powerful drugs.
According to the Colandrea indictment, he and doctors he hired from a staffing firm in Texas willfully prescribed the pain reliever oxycodone and the anti-anxiety medication Xanax, also known as alprazolam.
Among the alleged offenses listed in the indictment:
• Colandrea and his cohorts falsified patients’ urine samples to justify giving the maximum amount of painkillers.
• Employees at the clinic referred to drugs by their street names like “roxys” and “blues.”
• Prescriptions for the highly addictive drugs were issued to an “inordinately high percentage” of patients in their 20s and 30s.
• In one day, Dr. Cleveland Enmon wrote 62 prescriptions for painkillers.
• Colandrea and his office manager, Nicole Anderson, engaged in more than $1 million worth of transactions with money derived from the drug proceeds.
Colandrea is currently free on his own recognizance after posting $75,000 bond. His attorney, based in Miami, Fla., didn’t return calls from The City Paper.
Tennessee is one of the states hit hardest by prescription drug abuse. A federal report issued in 2008 noted that Tennessee ranked first among all states for non-medical use of pain relievers among people ages 26 or older.
And those alarming statistics have caused the Tennessee General Assembly to take notice. The state passed a law in 2011 requiring pain clinics to register with the state Department of Health. The application for certification requires clinics to fill out a questionnaire and submit a $415 fee. There are 26 state-certified pain management clinics in Davidson County.
Gov. Bill Haslam also signed the Tennessee Prescription Safety Act earlier this year, mandating that clinic doctors document the reason for prescribing drugs in an electronic database. Previously, only prescription dosages for 72 hours or longer had to be documented. The law went into effect on Oct. 1.
Coincidentally, Back to Wellness was raided by federal authorities on May 11, the same day Haslam signed the law. Data from the Metro Nashville Police Department indicates police also responded to a robbery call at the clinic that day.
The civil forfeiture complaint alleges that the property seized from Back to Wellness and Denise Colandrea’s bank account was “furnished or intended to be furnished by any person in exchange for a controlled substance.” However, Assistant U.S. Attorney Debra Phillips declined to comment on whether there was a distinct connection to Ronald Colandrea’s case in Georgia.
Multiple attempts to reach Back to Wellness’ registered physician, Michael Moore, were unsuccessful. According to the state Department of Health, Moore has been licensed to practice medicine since 1990 and has no history of disciplinary action against him by the Board of Medical Examiners.
The case against Colandrea in Georgia is still pending. If convicted, he could face more than 20 years in prison and/or a fine up to $2 million.