LOS ANGELES >> A Covina doctor accused of prescribing a powerful painkiller to an undercover investigator, then laundering the proceeds, agreed to plead guilty Thursday to two federal charges, officials said.
Dr. Daniel Cham, 48, of Covina — who operated medical offices in La Puente and Artesia — agreed to enter guilty pleas to one count of distribution of oxycodone and one count of money laundering, US Department of Justice spokesman Thom Mrozek said in a written statement.
“Painkillers like oxycodone can be life-threatening to those who abuse them,” US Attorney Eileen M. Decker said. “Many of the prescription drugs that find their way to the street come from doctors who prescribe them without medical justification. This defendant put lives at risk for money, making him no different than street-level drug dealer.”
Cham admitted that he wrote prescriptions for oxycodone for an undercover agent at his La Puente office three times in 2014, Mrozek said.
Each time, he accepted $200 to $300 in money orders in exchange, officials said. On at least one occasion, Cham then deposited the funds into a bank account in the name of another business.
The deposits were made in order to “conceal and disguise the nature and source of the money order,” according to the plea agreement.
Cham wrote prescriptions for oxycodone for an undercover agent at his La Puente office three times in 2014, Mrozek said. Each time, he accepted $200 to $300 in money orders in exchange.
“As discussed in the affidavit, Cham issued a prescription for oxycodone even though the undercover operative said he ‘had been high and drunk while receiving controlled substance prescriptions’ previously from Cham.” Mrozek said. “On another occasion, Cham prescribed oxycodone even though the undercover law enforcement officer presented, in lieu of photo identification, a written notice that his license had been suspended for driving under the influence.”
Cham often saw patients between 8 p.m. and 2 a.m. on weekends, but post-dated prescriptions to they would appear to have been issued on weekdays, officials said.
The doctor wrote more than 5,500 prescriptions for powerful drugs such as oxycodone and hydrocodone over a one-year period ending in March of 2014, Mrozek said. “And he issued more than 42,000 such prescriptions since July 2010.”
Cham is expected to formally enter his guilty plea April 4 in federal court in Los Angeles.
He faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison for each of the two felony counts he had admitted to, according to Mrozek. He also agreed to forfeit more than $60,000 in admitted proceeds from his crimes.
A federal grand jury returned a 31-count indictment against Cham in October of 2014. If convicted as originally charged, he could have faced more than 300 years in federal prison.
Dr. Daniel Cham Plea Agreement
DIAMOND BAR >> Deputies made five arrests Wednesday as they raided a concentrated cannabis “honey oil” lab at a Diamond Bar home, seizing about $85,000 worth of concentrated an unprocessed marijuana, $15,000 worth of liquid LSD and $6,000 in cash, authorities said.
Narcotics investigators from the sheriff’s Walnut-Diamond Bar Station carried out the raid about 1:30 p.m. at a house in the 200 block of South River Rock Road, deputies from the Los Angeles County sheriff’s Information Bureau said in a written statement.
“LASD narcotics detectives discovered an active honey oil marijuana extraction lab, where approximately one pound total of concentrated cannabis and unfinished cannabis product were seized,” according to the statement, “ The street value for the concentrated cannabis was estimated at approximately $15,000 and $70,000 for the unfinished cannabis product.:
Deputies also found and seized two one-ounce vials of a liquid form of the psychedelic drug LSD, valued at about $15,000, the deputies added. “Approximately $6,000 in currency was also seized.”
Three men and two women between 18 and 23 years old were arrested during the raid, officials said. Four of them live at the home.
Sheriff’s officials withheld the suspect’s names as the investigation continued Wednesday night.
Anyone with information is asked to call the sheriff’s Walnut-Diamond Bar Station at 909-595-2264. Tips may also be submitted anonymously to L.A. Regional Crime Stoppers at 800-222-8477.
PHOTOS courtesy of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department
ALHAMBRA >> Police arrested an alleged heroin dealer from San Bernardino early Wednesday after he was found driving through Alhambra with 25 small bindles of heroin in his pocket, officials said
Alejandro Fuentes, 31, was booked on suspicion of possession of heroin with intent to distribute following his 2:55 a.m. arrest in the area of Valley Boulevard and Marguerita Avenue, Alhambra police Sgt. Jerry Johnson said.
An officer noticed Fuentes at the wheel of car parked behind a closed medical office, the sergeant said.
As the officer approached the vehicle, it drove off, Johnson said. The officer pulled it over nearby. There were three passengers in the car with Fuentes.
Police soon determined Fuentes was unlicensed and discovered 25 small packages of heroin wrapped in clear plastic in his pocket.
The car was searched and Fuentes’ three passengers were not arrested.
Fuentes was being held in lieu of $30,000 bail pending his initial court appearance, Johnson said.
MONTEBELLO >>MONTEBELLO >> Prosecutors Tuesday charged two convicted felons who were released previously released early from jail as a result of Proposition 47 with new charges including drug-, gun- and identity theft-related crimes after a traffic stop in Montebello last week led to their arrests, authorities said.
David Castaneda, 33, faces charges of unauthorized use of another person’s identifying information, fraudulent possession of another persons identifying information, two counts of being a convicted felon in possession of a gun, possession of drugs for sales and possession of a firearm with drugs, according to Montebello police officials and Los Angeles County booking records.
Jonathan Gonzales, 29, is accused of unauthorized use of another person’s identifying information and fraudulent possession of another person’s identifying information, Montebello police officials said in a written statement.
Castaneda was already on parole for robbery and was being sought as an parolee-at-large, police said. Gonzales was on parole for assault with a deadly weapon.
“Both suspects were early release parolees as a result of Proposition 47,” according to the statement.
Montebello police pulled over a car containing the two men about 12:30 a.m. on March 3 in their city, officials said.
“Castaneda was found in possession of several credit cards not in his name. Several stolen and altered checks were also located inside the vehicle in the names of different victims,” according tot he statement.”
“Gonzalez was found in possession of approximately 20 credit cards, drivers’ licenses, health insurance cards and credit receipts not in his name,” the statement continued.
Both men were arrested on suspicion of identity theft-related crimes.
A search of Castaneda’s South Gat home the follow day yielded two handguns, 12 ounces of methamphetamine, marijuana and property believed to have been obtained “through fraudulent means,” according to the statement.
Castaneda and Gonzales were each being held without bail, records show. Castaneda was scheduled to appear in Los Angeles Superior Court March 10, while Gonzalez was scheduled to appear in the same court March 18.
WHITTIER >> What began as a routine traffic accident investigation earlier this week ended with police arresting of the involved drivers, a convicted felon, after finding an AK-47-style rifle, a sawed-off shotgun, a handgun and drugs in his car, authorities said.
Joshua David Fink, 38, was booked on suspicion of being convicted felon in possession of firearms and ammunition, possession of illegal weapons, possession of drugs while armed and existing warrants following his Wednesday morning arrest, according to Whittier police officials and Los Angeles County booking records.
Police responded to a two-car crash shortly before 9 a.m. Wednesday in the 15400 block of Whittier Boulevard, Whittier police Lt. Mike Przybyl said. Further details were not available regarding the collision itself, but it was not believed to involved any major injuries.
“As paramedics were treating one of the drivers, they noticed a handgun hidden in the car,” police said in a written statement. “Officers conducted a field investigation and recovered a handgun, assault rifle, sawed-off shotgun, ammunition and drugs from the vehicle.”
Fink appeared in Bellflower Superior Court Friday, where he was charged with seven gun- and drug-related crimes, court documents show. His arraignment hearing was postponed until Monday, officials said.
PHOTO courtesy of the Whittier Police Department.
WHITTIER >> Police arrested a 50-year-old woman on suspicion of selling methamphetamine out of her Whittier apartment during an early-morning raid Thursday, officials said.
Sylvia Diane Garcia was arrested about 6 a.m. when Whittier police Special Enforcement Team members served a search warrant at her apartment in the 7700 block of Bright Avenue, according to police and Los Angeles County booking records.
Officers recovered methamphetamine and “items consistent with narcotics sales” at the home, Whittier police Lt. Aaron Ruiz said. It was unclear how much of the drug was seized.
Garcia was being held in lieu of $60,000 bail pending her initial court appearance, records show.
PHOTO courtesy of the Whittier Police Department
WHITTIER >> Police arrested an alleged drug dealer, seizing methamphetamine and cash, while serving a search warrant at a Whittier apartment early Wednesday, officials said.
A police SWAT team served the warrant about 7 a.m. in the 7200 block of Milton Avenue and arrested 54-year-old Larry Paul Salazar of Whittier, according to Whittier police officials and Los Angeles County booking records.
In addition to methamphetamine and cash, police also seized scales and other drug paraphernalia, Whittier police officials said in a written statement.
He was booked on suspicion of possession of drugs for sale and possession of drug paraphernalia, police said.
It was unclear Wednesday how much methamphetamine was seized. Police seized about $1,000 in suspected drug proceeds, Lt. Mike Przybyl said.
Salazar was being held in lieu of $90,000 bail pending his initial court appearance, records show.
WEST COVINA >> Police seized a submachine gun and an ounce of methamphetamine, as well as arrested five suspects, outside a West Covina motel Sunday, police said.
Officers were on patrol about 9 a.m. when they noticed a car parked in the parking lot of the Days Inn, 2804 E. Garvey Ave. South, with three men and two women sitting inside, West Covina police Lt. Dennis Patton said.
Upon approaching the group, police learned the owner of the car was on probation due to a drug-related conviction, the lieutenant said.
Officers searched the car and discovered an ounce of methamphetamine hidden inside, along with evidence related to drug sales, Patton said.
“Further search of the vehicle led to the discovery of an Uzi-type machine gun, equipped with a loaded magazine,” he said.
Patton said all five suspects were jailed on suspicion of possession of drugs for sales and possession of a machine gun.
An Uzi is a fully automatic machine pistol developed in Israel.
The suspects’ names were not available pending the booking process, he said.
POMONA >> Tens of thousands of electronic music lovers swarmed to electronic music concerts in Pomona and San Bernardino over the Halloween weekend, resulting in more than 300 arrests, but no major incidents, authorities said.
The HARD Day of the Dead took over the Fairplex at Pomona Saturday and Sunday, while the Escape: Psycho Circus filled The National Orange Show Events Center in San Bernardino with the sounds of electronic dance music Friday and Saturday.
The rave in Pomona was the first held at the Fairplex since two young women died of suspected drug overdoses at the HARD Summer Festival rave in early August, drawing renewed scrutiny of raves from Los Angeles County supervisors.
In Pomona, police reported making 148 arrests Saturday, which was the first day of the two-day festival.
“Nearly all arrests were made at the security screening area or outside the venue, prior to entry,” Pomona police officials said in a written statement.
The vast majority of arrests were related to public intoxication, being under the influence of drugs, possession of drugs for personal use or sales, police said. Fifty people were arrested for having fake IDs, and officers arrested 10 allegedly intoxicated drivers at and around the Fairplex.
Guests noted the crowd at the Fairplex appeared smaller than previous electronic music concerts at the venue. The last event, HARD Summer Festival, was open to guests ages 18 and older. HARD Day of the Dead only admitted people 21 and over.
Police estimated 16,000 to 17,000 people attended HARD Day of the Dead on Saturday. HARD Summer Festival, by comparison, attracted about 65,000 to the two-day event.
“It’s hard to dissect any of this yet,” said Pomona Police Chief Paul Capraro said as he monitored the entrance checkpoints. “I’m hoping people think we did out job. I think it’s good to note we’re making it a safer event.”
Two “amnesty boxes” provided a place for people to throw away contraband with no questions asked before entering the venue.
“We had fewer medical issues. We didn’t have any other issues,” Capraro said.
There was a strong law enforcement presence at both the Pomona and San Bernardino events this weekend.
California Highway Patrol officers drove up and down the aisles in the parking lot, as Pomona police handed out anti-drug fliers encouraging concert-goers to “Play hard, not high.”
“There’s a lot more police here. It makes it a lot harder to focus on having fun,” said Amanda Lopez, 24, of Chatsworth. “It feels like someone is breathing down my back.”
While officers were making arrests of those who ignored warnings not to bring drugs to the Fairplex, they were also working to engage the public, Capraro said. “We’re also talking to people.”
Statistics regarding any possible overdoses or other injuries related to the concert treated at Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center were not available Sunday, hospital spokesman Frank Garcia said.
In San Bernardino, 193 people were arrested during the two-day event, with 86 people arrested Friday and 107 people arrested Saturday, according to the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, which collaborated with the San Bernardino Police Department for event security.
The event attracted more than 40,000 people Friday night, promoters said. A crowd estimate from Saturday was not available.
Officials did not give details about the arrests at the San Bernardino concert.
PHOTO by Jennifer Cappuccio Maher
LOS ANGELES >> A jury Friday convicted a Rowland Heights doctor of three counts of murder for the deaths of three patients who overdosed on drugs she prescribed following a two-month trial.
The case is the first time a medical doctor has been convicted of murder in the United States for overprescribing drugs, Los Angeles County District Attorney’s officials said.
Hsiu-Ying “Lisa’ Tseng, a 45-year-old doctor of osteopathic medicine and Walnut resident, operated the Advanced Care AAA Medical clinic in Rowland Heights along with her husband.
The Los Angeles County Superior Court jury also convicted her of 20 counts of unlawfully prescribing prescription drugs, but acquitted her on a single charge of prescribing drugs fraudulently, Los Angels County District Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Sarah Ardalani said.
“This verdict sends a strong message to individuals in the medical community who put patients at risk for their own financial gain,” District Attorney Jackie Lacey said. “In this case, the doctor stole the lives of three young people in her misguided effort to get rich quick.”
The verdict followed more than a week of jury deliberation.
Investigators arrested Tseng in March of 2012. She has remained in custody in lieu of $3 million throughout the legal process.
The second-degree murder charges stemmed from the deaths of Vu Nguyen, 29, of Lake Forest, on March 2, 2009; Steven Ogle, 25, of Palm Desert, on April 9, 2009; and Joseph Rovero III, 21, of San Ramon, on Dec. 18, 2009.
Prosecutors, who described Tseng as a “Dr. Feelgood,” argued she prescribed the three young men powerful drugs such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, methadone and Xanax, without valid medical reasons.
She has a sentencing hearing on Dec. 14, where she faces up to 45 years to life in state prison.
“This is the most severe penalty we have ever gotten ona doctor who illegally overprescribed drugs to patients,” Lacey said.
Tseng’s defense attorney, Tracy Green of Los Angeles-based Green & Associates, could not be reached for comment Friday afternoon.
The ground-breaking case was prosecuted by deputy district attorneys John Niederman and Grace Rai of the D.A.’s Major Narcotics Division.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration began looking into Tseng and her practice in 2008 after pharmacies noted high numbers of Tseng’s patients showing up to fill prescriptions for painkillers, prosecutors said. Investigators made undercover visits to the office, and conducted a search of it, in 2010.
Prior to the criminal case, Tseng had already settled civil lawsuits with the families of five other men who overdosed on drugs she proscribed. Testimony revealed at least 12 of Tseng’s patients in all have died of prescription drug overdoses.
Tseng denied the charges, and her trial began in late August.
Tseng received her medical license in 1997, according to Osteopathic Medical Board of California records.
She opened her Rowland Heights clinic in 2005, officials said.
“During the time-frame when nine of her patients died in less than three years, Tseng took in $5 million from her clinic and continued dispensing potent and addictive drugs unabated,” district attorney’s officials said in a written statement.
Tseng often no medical records while prescribing the drugs, officials said.
“In many instances, she faked medical records when authorities began investigating,” according to the district attorney’s office statement.
Tseng surrendered her license in March of 2012 and is not permitted to practice medicine, records show. Her DEA registration was revoked in 2010 amid the ongoing investigation.