BECKLEY, W.Va. — United States Attorney Mike Stuart announced that a HOPE Clinic physician, Dr. John Pellegrini, D.O., 64, of Huntington, West Virginia, was sentenced to 87 months imprisonment for conspiracy to launder money. Pellegrini was also ordered to forfeit $574,507 to the United States, as that amount represents the proceeds of his offense. Stuart praised the investigation conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services – Office of Inspector General, the United States Food and Drug Administration – Office of Criminal Investigations, the Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigations, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the West Virginia State Police, the Kentucky State Police, the Virginia State Police, the Beckley Police Department, the Charleston Police Department, Appalachia HIDTA, and the Drug Enforcement Administration.
“Although we have significantly curtailed our issuance of press releases and media information during the partial government shutdown, this is a significant result in a significant case that is significant to the people of West Virginia and public safety,” said United States Attorney Mike Stuart. “Let this be a lesson to medical professionals who place greed over patient care. Pellegrini is the third defendant to be sentenced in conjunction with HOPE Clinic and we have much work left to do. My office is committed to doing everything within our power to turn the tide on the opioid epidemic including prosecuting medical professionals who fail to heed their first and most important oath, ‘Do no harm.’”
John Pellegrini admitted that he worked as a physician at the HOPE Clinic in Beckley, West Virginia. As a physician, he was authorized to write prescriptions for controlled substances for legitimate medical purposes in the usual course of professional practice. Pellegrini was a contract physician employed by a third-party contracting agency and not by HOPE Clinic. Although HOPE Clinic held itself out as specializing in the treatment of chronic pain through opioids, both the owners of HOPE Clinic and its management company, PPPFD, knew that Pellegrini had no experience in the treatment of chronic pain patients. Pellegrini previously pled guilty and admitted that many of the prescriptions he wrote for HOPE Clinic customers were illegal, because they were written outside the usual course of professional practice and not for a legitimate medical purpose. In return for these illegal prescriptions, the HOPE Clinic and PPPFD received payments from the customers. Even though Pellegrini was a contractor, he received bonuses for his work at the HOPE Clinic from the customer payments. Pellegrini’s bonuses, as determined by the HOPE Clinic and PPPFD owners, were based upon the number of customers visiting the clinic each month. Thus, Pellegrini admitted that the more customers that returned to the HOPE Clinic each month, the more money he made through his bonus regardless of whether he physically examined the customer, just met with the customer, or just wrote a prescription for the customer. Pellegrini admitted that the bonus he received encouraged and promoted him to write more illegal prescriptions for highly addictive controlled substances, without a legitimate medical purpose and outside the usual course of professional practice, because the bonuses increased as the number of customers visiting the HOPE Clinic increased.
United States District Court Judge Irene Berger imposed the sentence. In imposing the sentence, the Court noted that while working at HOPE Clinic, Pellegrini disregarded his oath as a physician, as well as the law, and prescribed highly addictive controlled substances to patients with little regard to the medical necessity. The Court further noted that Pellegrini wrote prescriptions to patients he did not even examine and that he abused his position as a physician.