- Associated Press - Thursday, April 14, 2016

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Three doctors were among four men indicted by a grand jury Thursday on allegations that they illegally distributed narcotics to patients at an eastern Oklahoma clinic, including a woman who died after she was given 644 narcotics pills in a single visit.

The seven-count indictment was handed up by Oklahoma’s multicounty grand jury against Bernard Tougas, 43, of Fort Smith, Arkansas, and Drs. Ronald Myers, 60, of Belzoni, Mississippi, John Friedl, 58, of Jenks, Oklahoma, and George Howell, 79, of Wichita, Kansas.

The indictment charges all four men with racketeering in connection with the operation of the Wellness Clinic of Roland, a pain clinic in Sequoyah County eight miles west of Fort Smith.

The indictment alleges that between August 2009 and December 2014, they were involved in a racketeering enterprise in which various prescription drugs, including Xanax, Oxycodone, Lorcet and Soma, were unlawfully distributed to various patients “for other than legitimate medical or scientific purposes” and without a doctor-patient relationship.

The indictment also accuses Howell of first or second-degree murder in connection with the May 8, 2012, death of Tonya Lynn Chester, who the indictment states died due to drug toxicity after Howell dispensed a total of 644 pills of various narcotics to her in a single visit.

The indictment separately accuses Myers and Friedl with two counts each of unlawful distribution of a controlled dangerous substance for allegedly dispensing various drugs to patients without a valid medical purposed.

It also charges Tougas, a physician’s assistant, with maintaining a building where controlled dangerous substances were sold.

Contacted at his home in Kansas Friday afternoon, Howell said he is innocent of the accusations.

“We were running a pain clinic and we were doing what we should be doing in pain medicine,” Howell said. “There’s a lot of confusion how to manage chronic pain.”

Howell said many of the clinic’s patients had a variety of serious medical issues that put them at serious risk of dying. But he said he did not know what caused Chester’s death.

“I’m an honest, straightforward practitioner,” said Holmes, who said he has retired from active medical practice. “I was never a careless practitioner. But I was not a perfect one.”

Reached at his home in Mississippi, Myers said he would decline comment until he talks with his attorney. Friedl did not immediately return a telephone call seeking comment, and a telephone number for Tougas had been disconnected. A telephone number for the clinic had also been disconnected.

Attorney General Scott Pruitt’s office, which administers the grand jury, said Howell faces a possible sentence of life in prison if convicted of murder and racketeering. Friedl and Myers also face sentences of up to life in prison and Tougas faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.

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