Polk County Sheriff’s detectives working with agents from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) and representatives from the Florida Department of Health (DOH) arrested eight people, served five search warrants, and dismantled a large-scale pain pill trafficking ring in Polk County on March 6, 2012.
“Our detectives and FDLE agents identified, investigated, and dismantled this organization that has been responsible for distributing tens of thousands of fraudulently obtained pain pills. We don’t want any of these illegal ‘pill mills’ cropping up in Polk County, and we are working with state and federal agencies to make sure that if they do, the people responsible for putting these drugs on the street go to jail.” – Sheriff Grady Judd
“Every day, law enforcement is attacking prescription abuse in Florida,” said FDLE Special Agent-In-Charge Rick Ramirez. “This investigation highlights the successful cooperative efforts of law enforcement as we deal with this problem.”
The investigation began around July 2011, when detectives received information that the Key Medical Clinic, located at 1560 6th Street SW in Winter Haven, was a front for an illegal pill mill operation. Detectives learned that the owner of the clinic, Patricia “Trish” Osbourn, was illegally forging prescriptions for controlled narcotics using two different doctors’ names and DEA numbers whom she had hired to work at the clinic (the doctors no longer work at the clinic and they are not a target of the investigation), and providing them to Elizabeth “Liz” Sykes. Sykes used recruiters, one of whom detectives identified as Gwendolyn Ward, to recruit people referred to as “smurfs” to get the prescriptions filled.
Here’s how the network operated: Ward recruited the “smurfs,” who were willing to go to pharmacies around Polk County and fraudulently get prescriptions filled mostly for Oxycodone (OxyContin), but also some for Alprazolam (Xanax). Once the prescriptions were filled (using cash provided by Ward), the “smurfs” turned the pills over to Ward in return for a cash payment (usually between $50 and $100 each). Ward then gave the pills to her “boss” Liz Sykes.
So far, FDLE agents obtained information from the DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) who identified and arrested at least three suspects who have driven to Polk County from the Pensacola area to purchase the illegal narcotics from Sykes. That investigation involved the seizure of 12,000 Oxycodone pills.
The prescriptions used by the “smurfs” were written on prescription forms obtained by Trish Osbourn, using one of her clinic’s (former) employed doctors’ DEA numbers and forged signatures. Detectives do not believe the doctors had knowledge of this illegal activity. Osbourn is not a medical doctor, and is not authorized to fill prescriptions. However, as the owner of the clinic, Osbourn was answering incoming telephone calls from pharmacies to verify the legitimacy of the prescriptions. One of her employees, Angelica John, also verified the false prescriptions and had knowledge this was illegal. After her arrest she told detectives that she has a medical assistance certificate, works at the Key Clinic, and has been trained to verify any prescription that is called into the clinic. She told detectives she “thought this might be wrong but did it anyway.”
Liz Sykes gave Osbourn the names and personal information of the “smurfs” who had been recruited by Gwen Ward. Osbourn produced the prescriptions, then they were distributed back to the “smurfs” via Sykes, then Ward and other “recruiters,” and the prescriptions were filled. Most of the “smurfs” never visited the clinic. As a result of undercover surveillance of the clinic, detectives observed some “patients” enter and leave within minutes, not long enough to receive a proper medical examination. There were other apparent legitimate patients at the clinic, though they were few in number.
At least three businesses owned and co-owned by Liz Sykes were identified through this investigation. Sykes owns Sassy Shoes 4 Less located at 418-A Havendale Blvd in Auburndale, and is the co-owner of Pandora’s Hall in Auburndale and Father’s House restaurant located at 2862 Recker Hwy in Winter Haven. Detectives believe proceeds from her involvement in the pill mill operation have been laundered through and used in these businesses.
Trish Osbourn is a convicted felon and is currently on probation until 2020 for grand theft, and she has an extensive history of fraud-related charges. During this investigation, detectives learned Osbourn also represented herself as a licensed physician at the clinic and provided prescriptions to “patients” without them ever being examined. Osbourn is not a medical doctor and, according to the Florida Department of Health, with whom detectives have been working, the Key Medical Clinic is not a licensed pain management clinic, as would be required by Florida State Statute if it were legitimate.
As a result of the investigation, detectives learned that there were over 700 people who received and filled fraudulent prescriptions they obtained from Trish Osbourn. Of those, detectives have identified 150 other recruiters who were actively working for Liz Sykes to get the pills for their trafficking operation. Arrests for the identified “smurfs” are pending the completion of this investigation. At least 2,500 prescriptions, mostly for Oxycodone, have been linked to Osbourn and the Key Medical Clinic.
On March 6, 2012, PCSO detectives and FDLE agents served five search warrants: at the Key Medical Clinic, and four homes identified as belonging to the suspects or as being used by the suspects as “stash houses.” During the search warrants, PCSO detectives and FDLE agents seized over $21,000 cash, copies of driver’s licenses used for filling out fraudulent prescriptions, prescription pads, pharmacy receipts, Alprazolam (Xanax) pills, Oxycodone pills, marijuana, and cocaine.
One of the “stash houses,” 651 22nd Street NW in Winter Haven, is the residence of Katie Clarke, whom Liz Sykes identified as a friend of hers who works with her driving around getting prescriptions filled. Sykes told detectives she also uses Katie’s home as a place to stash pills and illegal documents related to this operation.
Those arrested were:
Patricia Ann “Trish” Osbourn, DOB 4/15/1965, of 105 Byron Place in Winter Haven, for Conspiracy to Traffic in Oxycodone Over 200 Grams (F-1);
8/1998 – Fraud;
11/1998 – Fraud, Forgery, Larceny;
1/1999 – Fraud, Counterfeiting, Larceny, Grand Theft;
1/2000 – FTA, Forgery, Grand Theft, Petit Theft, Scheme to Defraud;
12/2001 – VOP;
12/2005 – Resisting Arrest, VOP;
10/2006 – VOP.
Elizabeth “Liz” Sykes, DOB 12/14/1972, of 250 West Terrace Avenue in Lake Alfred, for Conspiracy to Traffic in Oxycodone Over 200 Grams (F-1);
4/1991 – Robbery;
5/1991 – Shoplifting;
2/1992 – Petit Theft, Retail Theft, Resisting Arrest;
2/1992 – Larceny;
5/1992 – Retail Theft, FTA, Petit Theft, Resisting Arrest, VOP;
1/1993 – Retail Theft, Resist a Merchant, Tampering With Witness, Burglary, Grand Theft, DSP, Petit Theft, and Battery
12/1994 – Larceny
9/1996 – Petit Theft, Resisting a Merchant
1/1997 – FTA, DWLSR, Worthless Check, VOP
7/2000 – Battery Domestic Violence
9/2007 – DWLSR
10/2008 – Petit Theft
1/2010 – Aggravated Battery
11/2010 – Aggravated Battery
3/2011 – Tampering With Witness, Felony Battery, Aggravated Battery
Gwendolyn Ward, DOB 11/25/1949, of 1610 3rd Street NW Apt B in Winter Haven, for Conspiracy to Traffic in Oxycodone Over 200 Grams (F-1);
7/1982 – Criminal Mischief
11/1985 – Passing Forged Instrument
9/1987 – DUI
8/1989 – VOP, DWLSR
2/1990 – DWLSR
9/1991 – DWLSR
3/1994 – DWLSR
9/2003 – Petit Theft
10/2003 – Petit Theft
3/2004 – Petit Theft
8/2006 – Aggravated Battery
1/2008 – DWLSR
9/2010 - Fraud
Angelica John, DOB 2/26/1989, of 3521 Avenue V NW in Winter Haven, for Conspiracy to Traffic in Oxycodone Over 200 Grams (F-1);
12/2011 - DUI
Katie Clarke, DOB 10/14/1967, of 651 22nd Street NW in Winter Haven, for Conspiracy to Traffic in Oxycodone Over 200 Grams (F-1); Possession of Cocaine (F-3); Possession of Alprazolam (F-3); Possession of Alprazolam WITS 1000 Feet Within School (F-1); Maintain Dwelling for Drug Sales (F-3); Possession of Drug Paraphernalia (M-1).
CRIMINAL HISTORY: 10/1994 – Aggravated Battery
8/2002 – Worthless Check
5/2005 – DWLSR
5/2005 – DLWSR, Resisting Arrest
7/2005 – DWLSR
10/2005 – FTA
12/2006 – DWLSR
5/2007 – DWLSR, Give False Name to LEO
Also arrested during this investigation were three other suspects for the following various charges—these suspects were present during the time of the other arrests and search warrants, and thus were also taken into custody:
Lindsey Buckner, DOB 10/3/1989, of 651 22nd Street NW in Winter Haven, for Possession of Cocaine (F-3), Possession of Drug Paraphernalia (M-1);
Kimberly Smith, DOB 1/28/1991, of 260 West Harris Avenue in Lake Alfred, for Fraud/Urine Testing (M-1);
Gwendolyn Townsend, DOB 12/14/1965, of 1610 3rd Street NW Apt B in Winter Haven, for Possession of Marijuana (M-1), Possession of Drug Paraphernalia (M-1).
This is an active ongoing joint investigation between the Polk County Sheriff's Office and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, in cooperation with the Florida Department of Health and the Attorney General’s Office of Statewide Prosecution.