Crime & Courts

Doctor gets prison for giving drugs to SC Irish Traveler, pushing patients for sex

Why it’s so hard to break an opioid addiction

More than a half-million people died from opioids between 2000 and 2015. Today, opioid deaths are considered an epidemic. To understand the struggle of a drug addiction, we take a closer look at what happens to the body.
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More than a half-million people died from opioids between 2000 and 2015. Today, opioid deaths are considered an epidemic. To understand the struggle of a drug addiction, we take a closer look at what happens to the body.

A federal judge Tuesday sentenced a doctor to 4 1/2 years in prison for illegally prescribing a highly addictive drug to an Irish Traveler in the Murphy Village community of Aiken County.

Evidence in the case showed Dr. Fred Gilliard, 77, of Evans, Ga., had provided illegal prescriptions to numerous other Travelers, pressuring female Travelers for sex in return.

Gilliard, who has surrendered his medical license, already has served a year in jail since pleading guilty last January to illegally distributing hydrocodone, a highly addictive prescription painkiller in the opioid family. He now will serve an additional 3 1/2 years.

Gilliard is the second doctor to be sentenced to prison in South Carolina in less than a year for illegally prescribing prescription drugs. Last May, a judge sentenced former Aiken podiatrist Mackie Walker to 15 years in prison for writing hundreds of illegal prescriptions for a drug ring that he was running.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jim May told U.S. District Court Judge Michelle Childs that Gilliard “exchanged pills for the pleasure of sex.”

May asked Childs to sentence Gilliard to 10 years in prison. The prosecutor told the judge that the ex-doctor illegally was prescribing addictive opioid painkillers while the United States, South Carolina and the Irish Travelers’ Murphy Village community in Aiken County were in the grips of a deadly opioid scourge.

“If this were a crack cocaine dealer, he would be getting life in prison,” May told the judge. “He should not be excused simply because he wore a white coat! ... He was preying on people who were addicted. ... A man who took an oath ‘to do no harm!’ ”

Under a plea agreement, Gilliard pleaded guilty to one count of illegally distributing hydrocodone. While a serious offense, carrying a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, that crime normally results in a six-month sentence under federal laws.

However, Gilliard is a repeat offender, allowing Childs to issue a stiffer sentence.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Gilliard was convicted of various federal frauds involving health care, obstruction of justice and perjury. He lost his medical license, and then got it back to become a specialist in treating drug addiction.

May told the judge the FBI had evidence showing Gilliard illegally prescribed addictive drugs to numerous Irish Travelers. Gilliard also telephoned numerous female Travelers, for whom he had written prescriptions, at “1, 2, 3 o’clock in the morning,” May said.

Gilliard’s attorney, John Delgado of Columbia, asked the judge for a six-month sentence, allowing the ex-doctor to be released Tuesday because he already has served a year in jail while awaiting sentencing.

Delgado argued it had been more than 20 years since Gilliard committed his previous federal crimes, adding he hadn’t been released from prison and immediately broke the law again. Gilliard also has numerous physical ailments, the beginnings of dementia and is needed at home to take care of his disabled wife, 74, Delgado added.

Gilliard’s son — Kirk Gilliard, an Evans, Ga., attorney — told Childs that his father held many high offices in the health-care community after his first prison sentence and successfully weaned about 100 people off addictive drugs.

Over the last five years, FBI, state and local law enforcement agents have investigated widespread white-collar fraud in Murphy Village, arresting more than 50 Irish Travelers, most of whom have pleaded guilty.

During the investigations, Gilliard’s name kept popping up as a supplier of illegal opioids to Murphy Village residents and agents began to investigate him. The evidence against Gilliard included secretly recorded videos, audios and phone records.

About 1,400 Irish Travelers, many related by blood and marriage, live in and around Murphy Village, an unincorporated area near North Augusta. The group, known for its closed ways and scams, claims to be descended from Irish immigrants who came to the area in the 1850s.

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John Monk has covered courts, crime, politics, public corruption, the environment and other issues in the Carolinas for more than 40 years. A U.S. Army veteran who covered the 1989 American invasion of Panama, Monk is a former Washington correspondent for The Charlotte Observer. He has covered numerous death penalty trials, including that of the Charleston church killer, Dylann Roof.


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