Doctor arrested for allegedly selling opioids illegally, including to DUI suspect charged in Costa Mesa fire captain's death

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Wednesday, December 19, 2018
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Federal agents arrested a doctor accused of illegally selling opioids, including to the man charged in the fatal DUI crash that killed Costa Mesa Fire Captain Mike Kreza.

TUSTIN, Calif. (KABC) -- Federal agents arrested a doctor in Orange County accused of illegally distributing opioids and other powerful narcotics to patients, including the man charged in the fatal DUI crash that killed Costa Mesa Fire Captain Mike Kreza when the captain was riding his bicycle.

Drug Enforcement Administration agents arrested Dzung Ahn Pham, 57, Tuesday pursuant to a criminal complaint that charges him with two counts of illegally distributing oxycodone. The complaint alleges that Pham issued prescriptions for the drug outside the usual course of professional practice and without a legitimate medical purpose.

Pham owns Irvine Village Urgent Care. Federal agents were seen raiding Pham's home in Tustin, where dozens of guns were found, and they were also seen at the urgent care location on Tuesday.

According to the affidavit in support of the complaint, Pham was selling prescriptions to "patients" who were drug addicts and/or were selling the drugs on the black market. Also, at least five people who received and filled prescriptions from Pham died of drug overdoses from 2014 through 2017, the affidavit stated.

Stephen Taylor Scarpa, 25, is accused of driving under the influence of drugs and colliding with Kreza in November. Scarpa, who has been charged with one felony count of murder, was allegedly under the influence of Pham-prescribed drugs at the time of the crash, according to the affidavit. The document also stated that Scarpa told investigators "that he was on medications prescribed by Pham," and several prescription bottles with Pham's name were found in the defendant's vehicle after the incident.

The affidavit also stated that a review of a state-maintained database showed Pham issued "an extremely high amount" of prescriptions over a three-year period, and the types of drugs prescribed to certain patients would lead to "higher risks for addiction, overdose and overdose death."

"Over a three-year period, he wrote over 52,000 prescriptions for opioids and other significant, powerful narcotics, resulting in about 1.2 million pills on the streets," Central District U.S. Attorney Nick Hannah said.

A CVS pharmacy in Irvine stopped accepting prescriptions from Pham more than five years ago because the doctor could not justify the number of opioid pills he was prescribing, investigators said.

The affidavit describes two undercover operations conducted during the summer, in which DEA agents were able to quickly and easily obtain prescriptions for narcotics from Pham, including a "triple threat," also known as a "holy trinity," which is the combined use of an opioid (such as hydrocodone), a benzodiazepine (such as Valium), and carisoprodol (a muscle relaxer like Soma). Pham allegedly steered an undercover agent to an Irvine pharmacy that filled many of his prescriptions, the affidavit stated.

Some of those drugs possibly ended up in the hands of the Borderline Bar & Grill shooter in Thousand Oaks.

The affidavit states that Pham sent a text message after the mass shooting that killed 12 people, saying the shooter had drugs in his possession that Pham had prescribed to someone else.

The criminal complaint alleges that Pham made large amounts of cash from the operation of Irvine Village Urgent Care by charging between $100 and $150 per office visit.

Between 2013 and September 2018, Pham deposited over $5 million, mostly in cash, into bank accounts held by Pham and his wife, according to the affidavit, which notes he also deposited approximately $1.7 million, likely derived from insurance payments, into a business bank account.

Pham made his first court appearance Tuesday afternoon in Santa Ana.

If convicted of the drug-trafficking charges alleged in the complaint, Pham would face a statutory maximum sentence of 40 years in federal prison.