An Orange County doctor accused of providing drugs to a man charged with running over and killing an off-duty Costa Mesa fire captain riding his bicycle in Mission Viejo pleaded not guilty Tuesday to illegally prescribing opioids to three patients.
Dr. Dzung Ahn Pham of Tustin, 57, was charged in an indictment last week of illegally prescribing oxycodone to one patient on Aug. 4 and Aug. 27 and another patient on Oct. 5. He was also charged in the indictment with illegally prescribing hydrocodone to one of those patients on Oct. 5 and another patient Nov. 6.
Pham was also charged with illegally prescribing amphetamine salts to a patient in October.
When Pham was arrested in December he was accused of prescribing drugs to patients he never examined, including five who died of overdoses, prosecutors said.
Pham hired a new attorney at Tuesday’s hearing, replacing Julie Swain with Tom Gruenbeck.
Pham was ordered to return to court for a pretrial conference hearing on March 1. Trial is scheduled for March 12.
Pham was previously ordered by a federal judge to stop treating patients to whom he has prescribed opiods in the past and refer them to another doctor. Pham is also barred from prescribing opioids, but he was allowed to continue practicing medicine and can prescribe other medications such as antibiotics.
One of Pham’s patients was Stephen Taylor Scarpa, 25, of Mission Viejo, who is charged with second-degree murder in the death of 44-year-old Costa Mesa Fire Capt. Mike Kreza.
According to a court filing, Scarpa allegedly told Orange County sheriff’s investigators he fell asleep before the collision. During questioning, he “admitted to using multiple controlled substances for the past three days and admitted he shouldn’t have been driving a motor vehicle,” according to the report authored by sheriff’s Sgt. B. Sims. Scarpa allegedly added during questioning that he “knew better about driving under the influence of drugs and had even done so in the past with his 3-year-old daughter,” according to the sheriff’s sergeant.
Sheriff’s investigators allege they found several prescription medications in the van. Pham’s name was on the prescription bottles, according to a Drug Enforcement Administration affidavit in Pham’s case.
Federal authorities also contend that Pham sent a text message expressing concern that Borderline Bar and Grill mass killer David Ian Long had prescription drugs in his possession that Pham had prescribed for someone else. Twelve people were killed in the Nov. 7 massacre inside a Thousand Oaks bar before Long fatally shot himself.
In addition to allegedly writing prescriptions for patients he never examined, prosecutors said Pham sold prescriptions to drug addicts or to dealers selling the narcotics on the black market.
Prosecutors allege Pham wrote “an extremely high amount” of prescriptions over three years, so much so that a CVS pharmacy in Irvine stopped taking prescriptions from Pham more than five years ago.
Over the summer, DEA agents conducted two undercover operations targeting Pham in which he allegedly steered the agents to a pharmacy in Irvine that filled many of his prescriptions, said Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Five people who obtained drugs from Pham from 2014 through last year overdosed and died, prosecutors said.
Pham charged between $100 and $150 per office visit, Mrozek said. The doctor deposited over $5 million, mostly in cash, into his and his wife’s bank accounts between 2013 and September of this year, according to the DEA affidavit. He also deposited about $1.7 million into a business bank account that investigators suspect came from insurance payments, Mrozek said.
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