A federal court jury in Orange County Friday convicted a Santa Barbara doctor of 79 counts of writing medically unnecessary prescriptions for narcotic pain killers and sedatives for nine patients, including one who died.
Prosecutors have alleged the actions of Julio Gabriel Diaz, who was dubbed the “Candy Man,” may have led to the deaths of as many as 20 patients. The 67-year-old former doctor is expected to receive about 20 years in prison when he’s sentenced Dec. 14.
“I’m just very pleased with the verdict and the time and attention the jury paid to this through deliberations,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Ann Wolf.
Jurors began deliberations late Wednesday and reached verdicts about 1:30 p.m. today. The prosecutor said she hopes the verdicts “send a message” to other physicians prescribing pain killers.
“These drugs are extremely addictive and dangerous and (patients) have to be monitored very carefully,” Wolf told reporters after the verdicts.
Diaz’s patients called him the “Candy Man,” Wolf said.
Diaz’s attorney, Kate Corrigan, said, “We vigorously defended the case and we will be filing a notice of appeal.”
Wolf pointed to the death of 27-year-old Adam Montgomery in her opening statement to jurors. Montgomery received 1,140 opiates that were “highly addictive, highly dangerous and highly abused,” Wolf said.
Despite warnings and pleas from professional colleagues, Diaz “continued to sell and prescribe highly addictive, controlled substances … for no legitimate medical purpose,” Wolf said.
According to the prosecutor, the case against Diaz started when many of those professional colleagues began complaining to the authorities.
At Cottage Hospital in Santa Barbara, officials began logging how many of Diaz’s patients came in suffering withdrawal and overdoses, Wolf said. They counted about 410 emergency room visits by his patients from January 2009 to December 2010, according to prosecutors.
Diaz did not stop “until his practice was closed down,” Wolf said.
When one of his staff raised concerns about the prescriptions, Diaz fired her, Wolf said.
Some patients would drop by without an appointment and receive a prescription, Wolf said. Some would get pills even when they didn’t see the doctor, Wolf said.
Corrigan said her client’s practice initially focused on elderly patients, who could be relied upon to be honest about their symptoms. After he took classes in pain management, the focus of his practice changed and so did his base of patients, who weren’t so honest about what they needed, Corrigan said.
In January 2014, Diaz pleaded guilty to 10 counts of distributing controlled substances without a legitimate medical purpose and one count of distributing controlled substances to a minor. But in December, U.S. District Judge Cormac Carney allowed Diaz to withdraw his plea, saying he received ineffective representation from his previous lawyer.
As part of 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