A Lynwood doctor used his prescription pad to illegally distribute narcotics and sedatives to “patients” who were rarely examined, a prosecutor told a jury Tuesday, but the defense countered that practicing “bad medicine” is not drug dealing and the physician should be found not guilty of federal charges.
Dr. Edward Ridgill is being tried in Los Angeles federal court on multiple counts of illegally distributing the federally controlled opiate painkiller Norco, the sedative Xanax and the muscle relaxer Soma by allegedly selling prescriptions out of his tiny two-person medical clinic on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. The three-pill combination produces a powerful “high” and is known to drug abusers as the “trinity,” according to a federal drug agent.
“Every doctor has a duty to care for their patients,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Catherine Sun Ahn told the jury in her opening statement. The defendant, she alleged, “abandoned” that duty, becoming a source for addictive drugs who illegally distributed them “through his prescription pad.”
The prosecutor alleged that Ridgill wrote “repeated, high-volume, maximum-dose” prescriptions in exchange for cash during a three-year period between July 2011 and July 2014 for no legitimate purpose and outside the course of normal medical practice.
“These commonly abused drugs are highly sought-after by addicts … and sold (on the streets) for cash,” Ahn said, adding that when investigators searched the clinic, they seized stacks of cash “stuffed in the receptionist’s desk drawer” and “in and among patient files.”
In his opening statement, defense attorney David Joseph Sutton didn’t mention cash, but suggested that while his client may have cut corners in his practice, Ridgill was not dealing drugs out of his office.
“The government’s theory is that he abandoned his intent to act like a medical doctor and instead became a common drug dealer,” Sutton said. “Bad medicine is not drug dealing.”
Sutton, who showed the jury video clips of Ridgill talking to a patient about the man’s ailments, said the prosecution’s case does not support a guilty verdict.
If convicted of all charges, the 65-year-old doctor could be sentenced to decades behind bars.
According to the affidavit filed in the case, Ridgill issued more than 21,000 prescriptions for the drugs during the years in question. All of the prescribed drugs were at or near maximum strength.
Ahn said the charges are based on covertly recorded visits to Ridgill’s office by confidential sources connected to a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration task force. Prior to seeing the doctor, sources concealed miniature cameras in cups, buttons, hats and purses, according to court documents.
The affidavit describes undercover operations during which Ridgill allegedly accepted cash for prescriptions. In most instances, the doctor allegedly sold the prescriptions without ever examining the undercover officer or cooperating witness. A medical expert’s independent review of the undercover recordings and seized patient files determined that there was no legitimate medical basis for the prescriptions, according to prosecutors.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office alleges that the defendant maintained two Bank of America accounts in which he deposited thousands of dollars every month. In 2014 alone, Ridgill deposited $175,697 in cash, prosecutors allege.
“Defendant did not deposit the cash through a teller; instead, he manually fed the bills into ATMs, a behavior, which, again, suggests a desire to evade detection,” according to the government’s trial memorandum.
The first prosecution witness, Special Agent Keith Bridgford of the DEA, told the jury that the combination of Norco, Xanax and Soma is known on the street as the “trinity” or “unholy trinity” and is highly sought-after by addicts for its “synergetic value.”
–City News Service
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