Multimillion Dollar SoCal Pharmacy Oxycontin Scheme Put 900,000 Pills on Streets: Feds

Photo courtesy of Drug Enforcement Agency
Take these two and times it by 450,000.

A looming trial in Los Angeles involves: five medical professional defendants, including a Huntington Beach resident; Medicare and Medi-Cal being stung for $2.7 million in Oxycontin reimbursements; billings for $4.6 million in medical procedures that were not needed or never performed; and 900,000 Oxy pills eventually being sold on the streets, according to federal prosecutors. Two other Orange Countians were convicted in the wide-ranging case.

It's the outfall from Operation Dirty Lake, a two-year investigation by the FBI, DEA and state and local agencies. The remaining trial is scheduled to being Sept. 23 in the U.S. District Courthouse in downtown LA, where among those facing the music is Perry Tan Nguyen, the 54-year-old Surf City resident who owns St. Paul's Pharmacy in Huntington Park.

Nguyen's co-defendants are Arcadia pharmacist Theodore Yoon, 68; Pasadena pharmacist Phic Lim, 44; physician's assistant David Garrison; and unlicensed physician's assistant Eliza Budogova.

Matthew Cho, 48, a pharmacist who resides in Irvine, and Fountain Valley's Elizabeth Duc Tran, the 47-year-old owner of Mission Pharmacy in that OC city and Panorama City, are among 14 indictees who have pleaded guilty and have been sentenced or are awaiting their penalties. Of the 20 people originally indicted as part of Operation Dirty Lake, only one, Ashot Sanamian, remains a fugitive.

According to the feds: Recruiters (a.k.a. "cappers") found Medicare and Medi-Cal patients who were brought into a sham clinic, "treated" for non-existent medical problems and prescribed high doses of Oxycontin. "Runners" would then accompany the "patients" (who were compensated for their time) to select shady pharmacies, where the Oxy would given to the prescription holder, who would hand the pills over to the runners, who would get them to a middle man for distribution on the streets.

Hey, remember that Dubya-era controversy of Medicare's Part D program? Turns out, according to the gubment, this scheme exploited the part of the law that extends prescription drug coverage to "everyone with Medicare, regardless of income, health status, or prescription drug usage."

The focal point for federal investigators has been Lake Medical Group in LA, which between 2008-10 fraudulently billed Medicare for about $4.6 million and Medi-Cal for around $1.6 million, according to the indictment. That clinic was started by two since-convicted folks with no medical background or training. The hepcats call such a clinic a "pill mill."

Most of the Oxy were 80-milligram pills, the strongest available, which fetched $27 a pill on the streets, the feds claim. If Medicare and Medi-Cal denied the claims from the bogus prescriptions, the pharmacies would demand cash payments of about $1,200 a bottle, prosecutors add.

The scheme generated so much money that multiple bank deposits of less than $10,000 each were made to avoid deposit reports to the FBI, which is a crime. One clinic co-owner pumped $31,300 in one day into slot machines at San Manuel Bingo & Casino in Highland, according to the indictment, which also alleges proceeds were spent on new cars, jewelry and, in somewhat of a demented circle of drug life, more Oxycontin.

Email: Twitter: @MatthewTCoker. Follow OC Weekly on Twitter @ocweekly or on Facebook!

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