CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A Texas doctor who traveled to Logan County every three months to run a pill mill was sentenced Tuesday to 71 months in prison.
U.S. District Judge John Copenhaver compared Dr. Fernando Gonzales-Ramos, 47, to a "common street drug dealer" before handing down the maximum sentence allowed by a plea deal.
Gonzales-Ramos pleaded guilty in April to one count of conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance without a legitimate medical purpose. He had faced 57 to 71 months.
As part of the plea agreement, Gonzales-Ramos surrendered his Drug Enforcement Administration Certificate of Registration.
Prosecutors said that from September 2011 through this March, Gonzales-Ramos ran a cash-only pill trade in a Logan building that did not have running water, an exam table, or other medical equipment. He charged $450 to $500 for prescriptions for controlled pills.
After collecting the payments, Gonzales-Ramos directed an associate to make cash deposits into his personal bank accounts, prosecutors said.
"Dr. Gonzales-Ramos wasn't operating a doctor's office, he was running a drug den," U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin said in a statement. "His so-called office had no exam table, no running water, and not even so much as a stethoscope. For thousands of dollars in cash, he was pumping out prescriptions for thousands of units of powerful narcotics."
His wife and other family members traveled from Texas, Florida, Louisiana and Puerto Rico to attend the sentencing.
His wife, who is also a doctor, cried as her husband read a letter to the judge requesting the lower end of the sentence. Gonzales-Ramos looked back at his wife and apologized, adding that he had tried to provide his three young children with a lifestyle that he never had growing up.
He also said he regretted what he had done to his patients in West Virginia.
His attorney, Rodney Smith, told the judge he had previously spent seven years in the military and had no prior criminal history. He also pointed out that his client immediately cooperated with federal prosecutors.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Loew reminded the judge of Southern West Virginia's prescription drug epidemic.
"Any sentence [within the range of 57 to 71 months] will send a significant message to doctors," Loew said.