Dearborn doctor pleads guilty in pain pill scheme

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

A Dearborn doctor has pleaded guilty in connection with prescribing unnecessary pain pills, the U.S. Attorney's Office announced Tuesday. 

Tete Oniango, 47, entered the plea to conspiracy to distribute controlled substances during a hearing Monday, records show.

He also agreed to forfeit approximately $37,000 in cash seized from his office, according to the filing. Records show he prescribed hydrocodone. According to an indictment filed in 2020, investigators said Oniango wrote the prescriptions in exchange for cash payments.

Oniango faces a maximum of 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine during sentencing on Aug. 22.

“Hydrocodone is extremely addictive and can lead to addiction and eventual heroin use," U.S. Attorney Dawn Ison said. "Michigan has seen a devastating number of opioid drug overdoses in the last five years. My office remains committed to pursuing medical providers who abuse their roles as caregivers and inflict harm upon our community."

According to the plea agreement, Oniango was part of a scheme between 2014 and 2017 while leading a medical clinic in Dearborn.

He admitted "to prescribing 12,500 dosage units of hydrocodone, a powerful, Schedule II controlled substance without regard to medical necessity," federal officials said Tuesday. "Oniango issued these prescription drugs outside the course of professional medical practice and without any legitimate medical need for the drugs."  

An attorney listed as representing Oniango did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Philip Ross as part of the Eastern District of Michigan’s efforts to address the national opioid crisis. The district is among 12 included in the Attorney General’s Opioid Fraud Abuse and Detection initiative, officials said.

“Physicians and other medical practitioners, who place profits ahead of their patients by prescribing powerful controlled substances outside of medical necessity, unnecessarily risk the safety of those who they are charged to care for,” said Mario M. Pinto, Special Agent in Charge of the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General.