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Government: Pill mill principal finally in Knoxville to face federal trial

Luca Sartini, 60, is being held in the Knox County jail on behalf of the federal government. He appeared June 26 in U.S. District Court in Knoxville.

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — An Italian man who federal authorities say backed a multimillion-dollar scheme to operate East Tennessee pill mills is now in custody in Knoxville.

Luca Sartini, 60, is being held in the Knox County jail on behalf of the federal government. He appeared June 26 in U.S. District Court in Knoxville after being extradited from Italy.

The U.S. Marshals Service handled the extradition from Rome. U.S. Marshal David Jolley for the Eastern District referred questions to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

The government had been trying to arrest Sartini and co-defendant Luigi "Jimmy" Palma since 2018.

Sartini and Palma, who still faces extradition from Italy, are alleged to have backed Sylvia Hofstetter in a plan to open several clinics that churned out pain pills with abandon to addicts and dealers in the early and mid 2010s.

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Hofstetter, 56, who is also being held in the Knox County jail, was indicted in 2015.

In February, a federal jury in Knoxville convicted Hofstetter and several clinic co-defendants. Hofstetter served as the on-the-ground overseer of the clinics, hiring, firing and overseeing pill mill profits, testimony showed.

Credit: KCSO

The scheme originated while Hofstetter worked for the men in the late 2000s at a South Florida opioid-based clinic, testimony showed. When authorities began raiding Florida clinics, Hofstetter shifted to Tennessee, the government alleges.

According to the government, Hofstetter and others hired medical providers with DEA registration numbers that allowed them to prescribe the opioids. The operators recruited a doctor to act as medical director and give them cover.

Customers flocked to the clinics, creating a nuisance and drawing complaints from nearby businesses. Few had actual maladies that required treatment; most just went to get pain pill prescriptions.

The operation proved lucrative for the conspirators.

The government alleges the Tennessee clinics handed out over 11 million tablets of oxycodone, oxymorphone, and morphine that generated over $21 million of clinic revenue.

Hofstetter is asking U.S. District Judge Thomas Varlan for a new trial. Sentencing after conviction was set for September.

Sartini's charges include racketeering and drug conspiracy. He has a pre-trial hearing Aug. 20 and his trial is set for Sept. 1, but such early settings rarely actually happen. Wesley Stone is his attorney.

Convicted along with Hofstetter in February were Courtney Newman, Cynthia Clemons, and Holli Womack, aka Holli Carmichael, all of Knoxville, Tennessee.