Photo via Pixabay
Photo via Pixabay

Jury selection is scheduled to begin Tuesday for the trial of a physician dubbed the “Candy Man” for allegedly writing illegal prescriptions for large amounts of narcotics, a practice that prosecutors say led to 20 patient deaths.

Last December, U.S. District Judge Cormac Carney allowed Julio Gabriel Diaz to withdraw his guilty plea based on a claim that he received ineffective counsel from his prior attorney, Michael Guisti.

In January 2014, Diaz admitted 10 counts of distributing controlled substances without a legitimate medical purpose and one count of distributing controlled substances to a minor.

At a hearing six months later, Guisti argued that Assistant U.S. Attorney Ann Wolf told him that his client could get probation for his guilty plea to 11 out of 88 felony counts.

Guisti said then that he was unaware federal prosecutors would raise at sentencing the issue of the 20 deaths allegedly linked to the Santa Barbara physician’s prescriptions. Carney said at the July 2014 hearing that it was clear the defendant faced up to 200 years in federal prison.

“I told him I’m not going to sentence him to 200 years, but I didn’t know how far below 200 years I was going to go,” Carney said.

Guisti argued that his client was never charged with the overdose deaths, but Carney said that did not matter.

“If the deaths can be linked to the prescriptions for medication that was not medically necessary, I feel under the law I must — I don’t think it’s discretionary — I must consider that,” Carney said.

At the hearing last summer, Wolf denied her office ever offered probation.

In her motion objecting to the withdrawal of the guilty plea, the prosecutor argued, “Bad advice about the length of a sentence rarely supports a finding of ineffective assistance of counsel.”

Wolf planned to argue for a 14-year prison sentence for the defendant.

Diaz’s new attorney, Kate Corrigan, has alleged her client received “totally deficient” legal representation by Guisti, and at trial “will have the opportunity to exercise his rights to review the discovery and make informed decisions.”

In the plea deal, Diaz said he doled out narcotics such as Oxycodone, methadone, Hydrocodone, Alprazolam, fentanyl and Hydromorphone in 2009 and 2010.

—City News Service

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