PRESS RELEASE FROM PIEDMONT MOUNTAINSIDE
Jasper, Ga. (April 16, 2019) – From 1999 to 2010, opioid-related deaths in Georgia increased by 500 percent. In 2016, there were close to 1,000 deaths involving opioids in the state and those numbers are continuing to increase. Facing those statistics and knowing that all healthcare systems need to play a role in attempting to stem this epidemic, Piedmont Healthcare is examining its pain management policies and connecting its hospitals with stakeholders in the community in an effort to address this crisis.
National Drug Take Back Day, which is sponsored by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), is Saturday, April 27, and will feature activities between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Local law enforcement agencies will provide a safe, convenient and responsible way to dispose of unused or expired prescription drugs. The majority of teenagers abusing prescription drugs get them from the home medicine cabinet. Using pharmaceutical drugs without a prescription or a doctor’s supervision can lead to accidental poisoning, overdose and abuse.
“One of the most important things we can do as individuals, especially as we try to protect our families and children, is to dispose of unused, unwanted, and expired prescription drugs,” said Piedmont Mountainside CEO Denise Ray. “That’s why we’re supporting the efforts of our local public safety departments and letting our employees know about National Drug Take Back Day and what they can do on a personal level.”
In 2018, Take Back Day brought in more than 900,000 pounds of unused or expired prescription medication. Disposing of those drugs safely keeps them off the streets and protects the environment as well. On its website for Take Back Day, the DEA has a collection site locator that allows individuals to find the closest take back sites to where they live: https://takebackday.dea.gov/.
Throughout its 11 hospitals, Piedmont will be coordinating with various local law enforcement and public health agencies on Take Back Day.
From a system level, Piedmont, the largest healthcare provider in Georgia, convened an Opioids Task Force in 2018 and is seeking to provide patients with optimal pain management while preventing the potential for opioid abuse. One of the key tenets to Piedmont’s plan is to increase education and awareness among both patients and staff. There are times when the use of opioids is appropriate and necessary, but Piedmont’s new protocols, created by its physician leaders in consultation with clinical staff, will consider non-opioids and alternate pain management modalities such as topical therapy, local injections, massage, physical therapy and more. Piedmont will also focus on establishing system-wide standardization and coordination of prescribing protocols in key risk areas.
“It is important to reduce the stigma around opioid addiction,” said Ray. “Unfortunately this is a sweeping epidemic, one that is effecting people across the country, regardless of age, gender or ethnicity. No one person, organization, city or state can tackle it alone, but Piedmont Mountainside is proud to join our sister hospitals and play a role alongside our patients and partners in the community.”
Learn more about Piedmont at piedmont.org
ELLIJAY, Ga – The Appalachian Judicial Circuit’s District Attorney, Alison Sosebee, began her campaign today in Fannin Middle School and Gilmer High School with presentations for students about the rising trend of vaping in all forms.
Speaking to the students she shared some of the responses that authorities have begun included harsher penalties for vape devices in general, not to mention the felonies possible with controlled substances. Using drugs in the vape devices like the popular Juul brand devices is only a part of growing concerns as authorities and administrations fear for students who expect non-nicotine flavored water vapor in devices they may find friends with when in reality these devices could contain anything from Heroin to Synthetic Marijuana.
Sosebee also invited Georgia Bureau of Investigations Special Agent Dustin Hamby to speak about the Bureau’s involvement. Hamby noted that almost 90% of his cases tied to drug usage in some way. He goes on to note that he’s had three murders in his career directly related to drug usage.
Sosebee recalled the story of a case she and Hamby shared about a guy who had taken drugs with a close friend. Under the influence, he grew greatly agitated at his friend and violently murdered him without full realization. He spoke further about how little it takes to blow up into major consequences in situations like vaping unknown substances.
Sosebee also noted that they are finding that many students and users of vape devices believe them safer than regular cigarettes. She noted that not only is there zero research to support his claim, but there is also no research or regulations on vaping devices right now. No one can tell you everything that is in Vape Juice, nor if people at smoke shops are adding extra ingredients. She called the students this generations guinea pigs for testing if vaping as they would be the cases that doctors study thirty years from now to determine the actual effects that Vaping can have in both short-term and long-term effects.
Only the first day, Sosebee is expected to travel to Fannin High, Pickens High, and Pickens Middle schools in the next two weeks along with possibly adding Gilmer Middle as well.
Jasper, Ga – Authorities have met a major incident as they executed a search warrant at the local A1 Smoke Shop in Jasper, Georgia.
During the execution of the search warrant today, September 14, members of the Drug Task Force, Pickens Sheriff’s Office, and Jasper City Police were exposed to an unidentified substance that immediately brought down one detective. Others also became exposed in attempts to help treat the detective. According to an official release by Sgt. Jody Weaver, Administrative Services Division of the Pickens Sheriff’s Office, “As of this release, two Detectives, a DTF Agent and two EMS personnel are being treated now for symptoms.”
Unconfirmed reports indicate the substance may have been made airborne during the search, but reports at this time indicate the exposure is not life-threatening.
According to their official release, “The Cherokee County Hazardous Materials Team has dispatched to the scene to assist, along with all surrounding public safety agencies including the Pickens Fire & EMS and City of Jasper Fire.”
Additionally, authorities have closed businesses in close proximity to the location and evacuated citizens from the area for safety.
With Haz-Mat teams investigating the substances, authorities are declining to release certain details of the active investigation, but indicate that they will be releasing more information about the incident later.
With the recent rise of vaping devices being used to inhale drugs ranging from Methamphetamines to THC Oil to Synthetic Marijuana, it is likely this warrant could be part of an official response to the trend in our schools, though no official statement identifies why they were executing a search warrant. The District Attorney’s office is currently undertaking a series of assemblies at the middle and high schools of Pickens, Fannin, and Gilmer.
At this point, it is actually quite common to find controlled substances in vape devices across America, especially in schools as reports continue to flood the media about students falling unconscious or having severe reactions, even seizures because of what they may or may not know they are inhaling.
See the full media release below:
“Pickens County law enforcement have encountered a suspected unknown powder substance during execution of a search warrant – Deputies and other public safety adversely affected.”
On the morning of Friday, September 14, 2018, the Drug Task Force, along with the Pickens Sheriff’s Office and the City of Jasper Police Department executed a search warrant at the A-1 Smoke Shop located at 684 West Church Street in Jasper, Georgia. During the search of the premises, a Detective with the Pickens Sheriff’s Office came in contact with an unknown substance which immediately resulted in the Detective experiencing adverse health conditions and symptoms. The affected Detective was transported to the local hospital for immediate treatment. Public safety personnel who were exposed while treating the affected Detective also began experiencing similar reactions. As of this release, two Detectives, a DTF Agent and two EMS personnel are being treated now for symptoms.
The Cherokee County Hazardous Materials Team has dispatched to the scene to assist, along with all surrounding public safety agencies including the Pickens Fire & EMS and City of Jasper Fire. Businesses in close proximity to the location have been evacuated as a safety precaution, and Haz-Mat teams are preparing to enter the premises to thoroughly investigate and identify the cause of the health issues with our public safety personnel.
As this is an active investigation, more information will be provided as it becomes available.
MULTIPLE GUILTY PLEAS EXPOSE ABILITY OF DRUG CARTELS
TO LAUNDER DRUG PROCEEDS THROUGH MONEY REMITTERS
ATLANTA – The last of nine Atlanta-based defendants charged with laundering drug money to Mexico through metro-Atlanta area money remitters has pleaded guilty, concluding a three-year long federal investigation targeting professional money launderers that exposed the ability of drug cartels to launder their illicit proceeds through money remittance companies.
“This investigation revealed how drug cartels use remittance companies to fuel their criminal enterprises,” said U. S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak. “Money remitters have strict rules to follow. When employees make a decision to ignore those rules, both the employee and money remitter businesses can face prosecution.”
“This case demonstrates the commitment of HSI and our law enforcement partners to dismantle and bring to justice those involved with trying to circumvent our financial laws and help launder illegal drug proceeds,” said ICE HSI Atlanta Acting Special Gregory Wiest.
“Drug cartels are constantly looking for conduits like money service businesses to launder their illicit drug proceeds back to Mexico. We work to dismantle drug organizations by cutting off the money flow back to Mexico, this makes it harder for the drug cartels to operate,” said James Dorsey, Acting Special Agent in Charge, Atlanta Field Office. “IRS Criminal Investigation will continue to target these money laundering experts by working jointly with our law enforcement partners.”
According to U.S. Attorney Pak, the charges, and other information presented in court: In 2014, federal law enforcement agents began investigating individuals in the metro-Atlanta area that were suspected of laundering drug proceeds to Mexico. Federal agents utilized cooperating sources to infiltrate these individuals’ networks and determined that the money launderers were frequently using small businesses to send drug proceeds to Mexico. These small businesses offered “money remittance services,” which allow customers to wire funds to individuals in other countries without using traditional bank accounts.
Investigators determined that managers and employees of a number of metro-Atlanta remitters were knowingly helping the money launderers send drug proceeds to Mexico. During the course of this investigation, cooperating sources and an undercover law enforcement officer brought drug proceeds or money that was represented as coming from drug sales to different remitters. In exchange for a kickback, managers and employees of nine different remitters agreed to launder the funds to Mexico by breaking the transactions into smaller amounts and by listing fake sender names, addresses, and telephone numbers. The investigation revealed that nine metro-Atlanta remitters transmitted more than $40 million over a roughly four-year timeframe. The resulting guilty pleas in this case made clear that the bulk of this money came from the sale of illegal narcotics.
Several of the defendants who pleaded guilty actually served as the Bank Secrecy Act/Anti-Money Laundering (“BSA/AML”) compliance officers for their respective stores and were responsible for detecting and reporting these types of illicit financial transactions. Instead, these defendants used their anti-money laundering training to help the drug proceeds flow to Mexico undetected.
The recorded undercover transactions that took place during the operation exposed how willing many remitters were to help their customers secretly send drug proceeds to Mexico. One defendant, who served as a store manager and BSA/AML compliance officer, even gave an undercover officer tips on where to sell drugs in Atlanta. Another defendant, who also served as a store manager and BSA/AML compliance officer, offered to provide a cooperating source help on obtaining fake identifications so that drug proceeds could be transmitted to Mexico undetected.
The following individuals have pleaded guilty to conspiracy to engage in money laundering and are awaiting sentencing:
- Oscar Gustavo Perez-Bernal, 35, of Atlanta, Georgia, was the manager and BSA/AML compliance officer at La Tienda and Cocina Linda Vista, which were both located in Chamblee, Georgia.
- Itzayana Guadalupe Perez-Bernal, a/k/a Lupe, 24, of Norcross, Georgia, was an employee at La Tienda.
- Norma Dominguez, 57, of Atlanta, Georgia, was the manager and BSA/AML compliance officer at La Veracruzana, which was located in Chamblee, Georgia.
- Norma Carrera, 39, of Atlanta, Georgia, was the manager and BSA/AML compliance officer at Hilos y Estambres Teresita, which was located in Chamblee, Georgia.
- Victor Perez, 31, of Lawrenceville, Georgia, was the manager and BSA/AML compliance officer at Intercargo, which had offices in Lawrenceville, Georgia, and Marietta, Georgia.
- Merli Sandy Tejeda-Bermudez, a/k/a Jorhley Adadlay-Bermudez, 30, of Duluth, Georgia, was the manager and BSA/compliance officer at Mundo Cargo and RR Latinas, which were both located in Lawrenceville, Georgia.
- Daniel Castaneda-Garcia, 32, of Atlanta, Georgia, was the manager and BSA/AML compliance officer at Taqueria el Dany, which was located in Lawrenceville, Georgia.
- Lidia Pineda-Altamarino, a/k/a Lily, 33, of Lawrenceville, Georgia.
Additionally, Susan Fiorella Ayala-Chavez, a/k/a Pitus, 30, of Lawrenceville, Georgia, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to engage in money laundering and has been sentenced to three years, one month in federal prison. Ayala-Chavez was an employee at the Rainforest Chevron gas station in Lawrenceville, Georgia.
This case is being investigated by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations and Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation. The Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Department, Georgia State Patrol, and Powder Springs Police Department provided valuable assistance throughout the course of the investigation.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Thomas J. Krepp and Alison B. Prout are prosecuting the case. The Justice Department’s Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section provided significant assistance.
For further information please contact the U.S. Attorney’s Public Affairs Office at USAGAN.PressEmails@usdoj.gov or (404) 581-6016. The Internet address for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia is http://www.justice.gov/usao-ndga.
The Pickens High School is currently in a “soft” lock down, meaning the hallways and common areas are kept clear. This is being done to allow a planned K9 search of the facility. Students are not at risk and this has been a planned operation to continue to make our schools a drug free environment.
Additional details will come as the search is completed.