Eleven people have been sentenced to federal prison or probation after they were convicted of drug charges related to “Operation Bad Employee,” a joint law enforcement investigation that includes the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, the Nassau County Sheriff’s Office and the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Rhiannon Rader, 34, of St. Marys, Georgia, was the latest to be sentenced to federal prison for her role in an organized scheme to distribute oxycodone, hydrocodone and alprazolam (Xanax).
Local and federal investigators from the DEA, JSO and NCSO identified Rader as the ringleader of the organized scheme. They said that while she was working as a medical technician at a Jacksonville Beach doctor’s office, she used her access to the doctor’s prescription pad to fraudulently fill out prescriptions oxycodone, hydrocodone and alprazolam and then sold those drugs to dealers who then sold the drugs on the streets. The name of the doctor and the doctor’s office is being withheld because authorities have identified the doctor as a victim in the investigation.
Investigators told News4Jax they obtained pharmacy records between March and September 2016. The records show that 44 different pharmacies in both Duval and Nassau counties filled 116 fraudulent prescriptions for 46 people who were not patients of Rader’s employer. According to investigators, there were certain occasions when pharmacy employees would call the doctor’s office to confirm whether the prescriptions were legitimate, and Rader would pretend to be in a position of authority to give confirmation.
“We learned that this drug trafficking organization, specifically the leader of it, Ms. Rader, was responsible for distributing more than 7,000 doses of controlled substances in our community,” said DEA Assistant Special Agent in Charge Mike Dubet, with the Jacksonville District Office
When Rader pled guilty in federal court, she admitted her action led to the illegal distribution of more than 7,000 doses of opioids.
Rader was the 11th member of the drug distribution ring to be convicted and sentenced in federal court. She will spend the next five years in federal prison. The other members include:
- Sandra Arnold, 35, of Nolensville, Tennessee, who was sentenced to 24 months in prison.
- Christopher Bates, 27, of Jacksonville, who was sentenced to 42 months in prison.
- Christopher Calhoun Jr., 25, of Fernandina Beach, who was sentenced to three years’ probation.
- John’quill Holmes, 31, of Jacksonville, who was sentenced to three years’ probation.
- Otis Kirkland, 33, of Jacksonville, who was sentenced to 63 months in prison.
- LaRhonda Lukes, 33, of Jacksonville, who was sentenced to three years’ probation and two months of home detention.
- Christopher Martinez, 28, of Baldwin, Georgia, who was sentenced to 51 months in prison.
- Reginald Ray, 31, of Jacksonville, who was sentenced to 19 months in prison.
- Carleigh Wilson, 25, of Jacksonville, who was sentenced to four months in prison.
- Sarah Yocom, 30, of Kingsland, Georgia, who was sentenced to one year of probation.
JSO Department of Investigations and Homeland Security Director Nick Burgos told News4Jax that the investigation began in 2016 when a pharmacist reached out to JSO about a suspicious prescription at various pharmacies.
“Some of the flags that were raised: Were these individuals supposed to be getting prescriptions? Were they doing it more frequently than they were supposed to? We would then verify those prescriptions to see if they were legitimate and then backtrack it to where it came from,” Burgos said.
When JSO narcotic investigators realized they had stumbled upon a large organized illegal drug distribution operation that was both within and outside Duval County, they contacted both the DEA and NCSO narcotics investigators for help.
“We always get concerned when in this case, they spread over a couple of counties with numerous people who are doing this for economic gains,” Burgos said.
Although the organization didn’t have a name, Burgos said the people involved knew exactly what they were doing and how to do it.
“This organization developed to the point where they were sending people out to get prescriptions that were no good. They would verify the prescription to the pharmacies. The pharmacies would call back to the doctor’s office, and then the person spearheading this would say, ‘Yes, that person should be getting this prescription,’ when they shouldn’t be” Burgos said.
After the prescription drugs left the pharmacy, according to investigators, they were then sold on the streets of both Duval and Nassau counties.
Nassau County Sheriff Bill Leeper said when they joined “Operation Bad Employee,” they learned that one of the recruiters for the drug distribution operation lived and operated out of Nassau County.
“What he would do is go out in the community and recruit others to either come to his home or go to their house then a mobile doctor would show up write them a prescription for narcotics,” Leeper said.
But, investigators said, the mobile doctor was not a real doctor, and the written prescriptions were all part of the fraud.
“It was well organized for several months. They had a good thing going. But luckily, when a pharmacist checked to see if an individual was getting a prescription filled was not actually a patient, everything just fell apart,” Leeper said.
Leeper went on to say “Operation Bad Employee” may have put a dent in the ongoing opioid problem in Nassau County.
“This is a major way to get these drugs off the street and it’s really helping our community,” Leeper said.
Dubet said this scheme to illegally distribute prescription drugs is a great example of an opioid crisis that has not only plagued the streets of Northeast Florida but has led to the accidental overdose deaths of so many people who needed help to overcome their opioid addictions.
“It continues to be an epidemic and it continues to be a huge problem for law enforcement,” Dubet said.
Dubet also said an illegal opioid distributing operation like the one ran by Rader does three things that destroy lives.
“One, it causes people to become addicted to pain medicine. Two, it causes people to turn to heroin and fentanyl. And, three, it causes death,” Dubet said.
According to the latest data by the National Institutes of Health, in 2018, there were more than 4,600 drug overdose deaths in Florida, and 68% of those deaths involved opioids.
Dubet is pleading for those addicted to drugs to get help and for those who know about illegal drug operations to report it.
“If you feel that you or someone close to you is addicted to pain medicine, please reach out for help. Secondly, if you suspect someone is out there dealing drugs -- it doesn’t have to be pain medicine, but any kind of drugs -- please contact your local law enforcement or the local DEA. We need the community’s help,” Dubet said.
Although “Operation Bad Employee” began in 2016, it is still an ongoing investigation, which means there could be more arrests.