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Raided urgent care clinics have been in legal crosshairs for years

The Willow Grove clinic's owner has not been charged with drug-related crimes, but is in federal custody for unrelated counts as authorities continue their probe.

Investigators gathered at the Advanced Urgent Care facility in Willow Grove, Pa., Monday Oct. 23, 2017, after authorities closed two offices as part of an ongoing investigation into opioid prescription abuse.
Investigators gathered at the Advanced Urgent Care facility in Willow Grove, Pa., Monday Oct. 23, 2017, after authorities closed two offices as part of an ongoing investigation into opioid prescription abuse.Read moreJOSEPH KACZMAREK / For the Philadelphia Inquirer

The line of customers stretched outside the Willow Grove urgent care center and into the parking lot almost every day.

Ten people, 20 people — an hour before the place even opened in the morning.

It was odd to see outside a medical facility, thought Jeff Froehlich, who works at Signarama, a sign-making business up the street.

He remembers his boss saying: "'I bet you something shady is going on.'"

It appears that federal authorities had the same suspicions.

The Advanced Urgent Care clinic in Willow Grove was among at least five of the company's facilities across the state raided by investigators with the DEA, the FBI, and other agencies Monday. A source said it was part of a drug-related probe into Mehdi Nikparvar-Fard, who owns at least two of the clinics.

Nikparvar-Fard has been in federal custody since September for allegedly lying to and threatening U.S. marshals who visited another of his clinics, in Wynnefield, to deliver a bench warrant for a civil suit against him.

Patrick Trainor, a DEA spokesman, said he could not comment on an ongoing investigation. Attorneys for Nikparvar-Fard did not immediately return requests for comment Tuesday.

Federal attention on medical clinics is nothing new. For years, prosecutors have charged rogue operators of so-called "pill mills" for over-prescribing legal versions of opioids and fueling addiction among patients.

"You could have one doctor … who in a very short period of time can distribute thousands" of pills or prescriptions, Trainor said.

Nikparvar-Fard has not been charged with any drug-related crimes, but has long been in federal crosshairs.

In July 2015, the DEA raided Advanced Urgent Care centers in Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania suburbs, according to news reports at the time.

In March 2016, the U.S. Department of Labor subpoenaed records from Nikparvar-Fard for 10 offices of Advanced Urgent Care in an investigation of wages and overtime.

And in April, the IRS slapped Nikparvar-Fard with a $2.8 million lien, according to court records.

The State Board of Medicine suspended Nikparvar-Fard's medical license Sept. 15 due to the U.S. attorney's criminal complaint, which alleges that he threatened and made false statements to U.S. marshals during a profanity-laced tirade Aug. 29.

The marshals were attempting to deliver a bench warrant for a federal civil suit, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason Bologna. Court records show that Nikparvar-Fard had been appealing a case he lost, in which he had been accused of ordering employees to treat white patients before black patients.

The state's emergency suspension petition notes that a week after his arrest, a federal judge found that Nikparvar-Fard was a danger to the community.

The board of medicine action does not note any specific medical practices, but quotes extensively from the criminal complaint — including an exchange in which a U.S. marshal had recorded Nikparvar-Fard saying, "We will see each other." When the marshal asked if Nikparvar-Fard was making a threat, court documents said, he unleashed a barrage of racial epithets and other obscenities at the marshals, insulted their salaries and professional competence, and even said he could hire someone to shoot them.

"You think you really at my level?" he asked, according to court documents.

According to the federal affidavit, law enforcement officers searched Nikparvar-Fard a second time upon arrival at the federal building, and found a loaded .380 pistol concealed in his jacket. "Yeah, it's loaded," he was quoted as saying, along with a profanity.

The State Board of Medicine's emergency suspension will be followed by a hearing, after which the board could suspend or revoke his license. It has no criminal authority.

Nikparvar-Fard — whose name is spelled on legal documents in various ways, most of them similar — was first licensed to practice medicine in Pennsylvania in 2004, according to state records. He graduated from Tehran University of Medical Sciences in Iran in 1994 and specializes in internal medicine, according to WebMD.

Attempts to reach representatives of Advanced Urgent Care for comment were unsuccessful. An employee who answered the phone at a clinic in Northeast Philadelphia said there was no corporate office to contact and then placed a reporter on hold for five minutes. An attempt to call back was met with an out-of-service signal.

Staff writers Mark Fazlollah and Mari A. Schaefer contributed to this article.