An 85-year-old psychiatrist from Wayne (New Jersey), caught in an undercover sting a year ago, pleaded guilty Friday to selling prescriptions of the powerful pain medication oxycodone and agreed to forfeit $500,000 to the government.
Dr. Priscilla G. Ilem admitted her guilt to U.S. District Judge Joseph E. Irenas during a hearing in Camden at which she paid the $500,000 representing the value of her now-shuttered home office, her lawyer said.
Ilem pleaded guilty to four counts of unlawful distribution of a controlled substance, admitting that she prescribed an inordinately large quantity of oxycodone to people that she reasonably knew were falsely claiming to have physical ailments in order to get the highly-addictive drug.
A native of the Philippines, Ilem came to the United States in 1955 and became a citizen in 1964. She had practiced medicine for more than 50 years when she was arrested in August 2011 following an investigation by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and Wayne police.
The probe began after police received information that Ilem was selling oxycodone prescriptions out of the office she kept at her Alps Road home.
During June and July of 2011, at Walgreens Pharmacy alone, 238 patients filled 291 prescriptions for oxycodone that had been written by Ilem, authorities said.
Using confidential sources and undercover officers posing as patients, authorities obtained oxycodone prescriptions from Ilem “during office visits which lasted an average of 10 minutes each and involved no physical examination or testing whatsoever, and for which Ilem charged a cash fee of $200,” her arrest complaint said.
In confessing her guilt, Ilem acknowledged failing to give patients proper physical exams before issuing prescriptions. She also admitted that she wrote prescriptions that were medically unnecessary for four people whom she later learned were undercover officers.
A week before her arrest, the psychiatrist took steps to cover-up her crimes, the complaint said. She went to police headquarters in Wayne and reported a possible prescription fraud, claiming that someone was using her name to write prescriptions, authorities said.
Following her arrest, Ilem admitted that beginning in May 2011 she began writing Roxicodone prescriptions — the brand name of the drug — for patients in their early 20s and 30s who claimed to have physical pain and that she did not perform physical exams, authorities said. She also admitted that the number of young patients visiting her office for Roxicodone increased dramatically in the ensuing months.
After the hearing, Paul Brickfield, a River Edge attorney who represents Ilem, was at a loss to explain his client’s conduct.
“It’s classic aberration behavior that is hard to explain,” he said.
“I can only say it’s a mystery because she had a very distinguished career. It was puzzling to everyone who knew her.”
A former Army Reserve colonel who served as chief executive officer of the 187th Medical Battalion during the Persian Gulf War, Ilem’s license to practice medicine was suspended by the New Jersey Board of Medical Examiners after her arrest.
Once she’s sentenced she will consent to the permanent loss of her license, Brickfield said.
Under federal sentencing guidelines, Ilem faces between 24 and 30 months in prison, Brickfield said. But under her plea agreement, she reserved the right to seek a downward departure based on her age, health and otherwise exemplary life, he said.
The judge set sentencing for Dec. 18 and continued her $1 million bail.