ONEIDA, Tenn. — Note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Dr. Coffey had pleaded guilty. He signed a plea agreement but hadn't yet appeared before the court.
A longtime Oneida doctor has signaled he's ready to plead guilty to illegally distributing 60 oxycodone pills after the Drug Enforcement Agency alleged he handed out prescriptions for nearly 5 million schedule II narcotic pills over 8 years — a rate of more than 1,640 addictive pills per day.
Dr. David Bruce Coffey also has reached an agreement with the government to plead guilty to illegally depositing money he made from illicit drug distributions, according to documents filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee.
Coffey’s crimes carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison. But he could face less than a year in prison under the terms of the plea deal, said defense attorney T. Scott Jones.
"I think that [Coffey] is fortunate with regards to what I’ve seen in the plea agreement concerning the outcome and ought to be very thankful," said Jones, who reviewed the plea agreement, but is not connected to the case.
Coffey's Oneida clinic burned to the ground in a pre-dawn fire in January 2020, weeks after the details of the DEA's allegations against him became public. A Tennessee Bureau of Investigation spokesperson said there is no update in the investigation into what caused the fire.
The DEA alleges Coffey ran a streamlined drug trafficking organization. Many of the prescriptions he wrote at his clinic were filled at the pharmacy he co-owned next door, a sworn affidavit said.
During one of several undercover DEA operations at the clinic, an agent said Coffey examined him for less than 20 seconds before prescribing hydrocodone.
In McCreary Co., KY, (pop. 18,306), Coffey prescribed more than a million addictive pills to patients over an 8-year period — enough for 50+ pills for every man, woman, and child in the county, the DEA said.
Coffey's attorney, Gregory P. Isaacs, declined to comment Friday because the plea agreement is still a pending federal matter. A judge has yet to accept the plea and sentence Coffey.
Coffey's physician's license expired in October 2021, records show. His clinic announced in July 2020 that it would permanently close the following month.
Details of the deal
Despite the staggering quantity of pills that the DEA said Coffey's clinic prescribed, he pleaded guilty to illegally distributing just 60 oxycodone 15-milligram pills in September 2016.
"Anytime you are dealing with professionals, it is a more difficult prosecution as to when they are exercising their medical judgment," Jones said.
The plea agreement said Coffey inappropriately pre-signed prescriptions for oxycodone and hydrocodone — he pleaded guilty to knowingly causing one of those prescriptions to be issued to a patient without a legitimate medical purpose.
He also pleaded guilty to depositing a $12,371.03 check consisting of money he made from drug trafficking and money laundering, the plea agreement indicated.
As part of the plea deal, Coffey will also forfeit $1.58 million and two Mercedes-Benz GL450s seized by the government because they’re connected to “drug trafficking” and “money laundering.”
In exchange for his guilty pleas, the government will stop its prosecution of Coffey in Tennessee and Kentucky, where the case was initially brought.
Coffey's sons Brandon and Alex, who worked with him, were also named in the original DEA documents. They are not included in the plea agreement. It is unclear whether Brandon Coffey maintains his license, records show Alex Coffey is still licensed to practice medicine.
Millions of pills
A sworn affidavit from the DEA agent assigned to the Coffey case paints a picture of a streamlined operation that formed the primary drug supply for traffickers in areas hard hit by the opioid epidemic.
In undercover operations, law enforcement saw approximately 100 cars parked at Coffey's clinic. Suspected drug traffickers stood outside, while inside the wait for a visit was approximately 6 hours, the affidavit said.
On one visit, the undercover agent saw Dr. Brandon Coffey for approximately 50 seconds and was given a prescription for 56 hydrocodone pills, the affidavit said.
While he waited for his brief encounter with the doctor, the undercover DEA agent saw Coffey's patients handing the leader of a suspected drug trafficking operation their prescriptions.
Coffey's office manager told the DEA it was not unusual for the clinic to see about 200 patients a day. To keep up with demand, a staff member told the DEA Coffey provided "pre-signed prescriptions for controlled substances for distribution to his patients when he was not in the clinic."
The DEA alleges the Coffeys prescribed pills to patients on days they themselves were traveling out of state.
The pharmacy next door
The DEA cites property records alleging Coffey co-owned Mark's Family Pharmacy next door to his medical clinic.
The pharmacy, also included in the federal affidavit, filled 43% of oxycodone prescribed by Bruce Coffey alone.
"Mark's Family Pharmacy's oxycodone distribution in 2016 was almost three times the state average and four times the national average," the DEA affidavit alleged.
In 2017, the DEA said the pharmacy's orders of oxycodone increased.
A former patient interviewed as part of the DEA investigation said Bruce Coffey told her she "should fill her prescriptions at Mark's Family Pharmacy."
Patient red flags
During the investigation, the DEA interviewed several patients of Coffey's clinic. In one traffic stop, a man said he was on his way to an appointment with Coffey. In his car, he had "more than 40 grams of crystal meth, an oxycodone tablet and a bottle of urine," the DEA affidavit alleged.
The man told investigators he had been seeing Coffey every 2 weeks for 10 years and received prescriptions for 56 oxycodone pills every visit.
In March 2018, the DEA investigator interviewed a couple who both said they were patients of Coffey. One said she estimated half of the patients at Coffey's clinic were filling their prescriptions at Mark's Family Pharmacy.
"Bruce Coffey told her he does various procedures, e.g. X-rays, drug screens, and injections to 'keep them [law enforcement] off my back,'" the DEA affidavit says she told investigators.
Raids and confiscations
Financial records cited by the DEA's sworn affidavit show millions of dollars flowing to Bruce Coffey's personal and business accounts. Private and government insurance programs paid Coffey's clinic at least $18 million from 2012 to 2018.
Coffey personally pocketed at least $2.7 million, with more for his sons and in joint accounts with his wife.
In June 2018, federal seizure warrants were first served. Federal agents seized Coffey's two 2014 Mercedes-Benz GL450s and at least $1.3 million in cash from his bank accounts, plus $40,000 in cash found at the Coffey Family Medical Clinic, among other seizures.
The DEA agent concludes Bruce and Brandon Coffey, along with others at their clinic "have engaged in the large-scale diversion of controlled substances by issues prescriptions outside the scope of professional practice and not for a legitimate medical purpose, as well as laundered the proceeds of that drug trafficking."