CLARKSBURG - The mayor of Bridgeport was arrested Tuesday after being indicted on federal drug charges alleging he distributed thousands of illegal painkilling pills during the past three years.
Mario Blount, 51, a pharmacist and part-owner of Best Care Pharmacy in Bridgeport, is charged with three felony counts related to the improper distribution of prescription painkillers. His indictment and arrest were announced by U.S. Attorney William J. Ihlenfeld II at a press conference in Clarksburg.
"Blount was arrested within the past hour in Weston by law enforcement officials," Ihlenfeld said just after 11 a.m. at the Derek W. Hotsinpiller Federal Center in Clarksburg. "The other two individuals named in the same indictment with Mr. Blount are being apprehended as we speak."
The Inter-Mountain photo by Beth Christian Broschart
The indictment and arrest of Bridgeport mayor Mario Blount is announced Tuesday morning by U.S. Attorney William J. Ihlenfeld II, left, and Karl Colder, special agent in charge for the Drug Enforcement Administration, Washington, D.C. Field Division.
Blount is charged with one count of conspiracy to distribute prescription painkillers, one count of distribution of oxycodone and one count of intentionally failing to file a report under federal law.
"His co-defendants are Angela Davis and April Davis, Angela being the mother and April being the daughter," Ihlenfeld said. "Angela Davis is also from Bridgeport and April is from Marietta, Ga. Both Angela and April Davis are charged in the same conspiracy with Mr. Blount."
Angela Davis, 50, and her daughter, April Davis, 23, are charged with conspiring with Blount to possess and distribute oxycodone as well as other prescription painkillers. Angela Davis has also been charged with attempting to fraudulently obtain controlled substances and with attempted distribution of oxycodone.
Ihlenfeld said the indictments came from the U.S. District Court in Martinsburg in May and were sealed until Tuesday. Matt Lyman, public affairs specialist with the U.S. Attorney's Office, confirmed that Blount worked predominately in the Bridgeport Best Care Pharmacy, but would fill in as needed at the Belington and Lumberport Best Care Pharmacy locations.
Ihlenfeld said each of the defendants face significant prison terms. Both the conspiracy and distribution charges carry possible sentences of up to 20 years if convicted.
"Mario Blount was the chief pharmacist at Best Care Pharmacy in Bridgeport," Ihlenfeld said. "As part of a separate investigation in October 2013, federal search warrants were served on pharmacies in Bridgeport, Belington and Weston. We were not able to comment on the reason for those search warrants at that time, or what was discovered during those searches."
Ihlenfeld said as a result of some of the evidence that was uncovered during those searches, questionable areas surfaced about Blount's prescription filling practices.
"We were able to go off in a different direction and investigate whether or not Mr. Blount was involved in illegal activity," Ihlenfeld said. "We pursued this because my office, myself, I was personally concerned that Mr. Blount was knowingly and willfully engaging in activities that violated state and federal laws and regulations governing the practice of pharmacy."
Ihlenfeld said there was concern about pills being dispensed when no prescription appeared to have been written, as well as questions about the individuals to whom the pills were being dispensed. He said the investigation is ongoing.
"As a result of the additional work the investigators have done... other medical professionals have been identified as possibly being involved in criminal activity," Ihlenfeld said. "Obviously I can't speak about who they are or where they may be located, but this is going to continue until we reach the end of it. I believe you will hear from us again with a spinoff from this case down the road."
Ihlenfeld said it was no surprise to anyone in the room that there is a drug epidemic in West Virginia.
"There are a lot of reasons for it," Ihlenfeld said. "Part of the problems are medical professionals, and it is a very small percentage of medical professionals in our state, but part of the problems are medical professionals who are profiting from the epidemic that we have here in West Virginia."
Ihlenfeld said a large number of people are addicted to prescription painkillers, fueling a demand for the illegal drug heroin, leading to an increase in heroin addiction.
"There are various segments of our society that profit from that need of individuals to get their hands on prescription painkillers or heroin, or other types of opiates," Ihlenfeld said. "Unfortunately, we have people in the medical field who are involved in profiting, just as we have drug cartels and drug dealers who are involved in profiting from this."
Special Agent in Charge Karl C. Colder, of the federal Drug Enforcement Association, said, "Today, Mario Blount, Angela Davis and April Davis will face charges regarding one of the deadliest growing drug problems that we as a society are up against. Prescription drugs and prescription drug abuse, turning into heroin use and heroin abuse, and heroin overdose."
Colder said Blount abused the trust of the citizens of Bridgeport and the customers at Best Care Pharmacy.
"These arrests serve as a warning that the illicit distribution of controlled substances will not be tolerated in Harrison County," Colder said. "Over approximately three years, Mr. Blount illegally dispensed over 11,000 oxycodone and oxymorphone pills. Today's arrests are the culmination of a 10-month investigation, which truly exemplifies the strong working partnership between DEA and the Greater Harrison County Drug Task Force."
"The DEA will continue to use all criminal, civil and regulatory tools at its disposal to identify, target, disrupt and dismantle individuals and organizations responsible for illegally distributing highly addictive pain medications," Colder said, adding that in recent years, arrest rates have gone up and seizures have grown by 87 percent.
On Oct. 9, federal officials served warrants at Best Care Pharmacy locations in Belington and Weston, while the Harrison County Drug Task Force and the federal Drug Enforcement Agency also served search warrants on locations in Bridgeport and Lumberport.
That day, Blount told a media outlet the four pharmacies "cooperated with FDA federal officials in an ongoing federal investigation of a local doctor."
The charges contained in the indictment are merely accusations, and each defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty. The case will be prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney John C. Parr.