UPDATE | A Long Beach doctor operating a medical office in Lynwood pleaded not guilty Thursday to more than a dozen federal charges linked to alleged illegal prescriptions for narcotics and sedatives, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. The indictment is part of a police operation targeting a street gang.
Authorities said 75-year-old Sonny Oparah, of Long Beach, entered his plea Thursday afternoon after being named in a 14-count indictment on September 6 alleging illegal distribution of codeine, alprazolam and promethazine with codeine.
Oparah faces a statutory maximum sentence of 51 years, if convicted.
In a separate indictment returned by a federal grand jury early September, 64-year-old Ventura resident Edward Ridgill—who also had a medical office in Lynwood—was charged in a 26-count indictment alleging illegal distribution of hydrocodone, alprazolam and carisoprodol. He also pleaded not guilty yesterday.
Ridgill faces a maximum possible sentence of 239 years in prison if he is convicted of all charges, according to officials.
PREVIOUSLY: Long Beach Doctor Faces Charges of Illegally Writing Prescriptions for Drugs
8/29/16 at 5:59PM | A Long Beach doctor operating a medical office in Lynwood faces federal charges for allegedly writing prescriptions for narcotics and sedatives such as Vicodin, codeine and Xanax without a medical purpose, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. The charges are part of a police operation targeting a street gang.
Sonny Oparah, 75, surrendered to federal authorities Friday and was released on bond that afternoon after making his first appearance in U.S. District Court. Dr. Edward Ridgill, who also had a medical office in Lynwood, was arrested on the same charges and released the same day as well. The 64-year-old is a Ventura resident. Both are ordered to appear for their arraignment in federal court on September 15.
Authorities said the pair were charged in conjunction with an operation conducted by the Torrance Police Department and Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office that targeted members and associates of the East Coast Crips gang, according to a release.
The federal affidavit said the investigation into Oparah and Ridgill began when the investigation into the gang revealed evidence that “Oparah and Ridgill served as large-scale sources of supply to [gang] members and associates via their issuance of medically unnecessary controlled drug prescriptions,” the release stated.
The investigation showed the pair operated cash businesses. Federal authorities seized cash from both doctors and bank records showing that Ridgill deposited $500,000 in cash into his bank accounts over a period of less than three years, according to the release.
Oparah and Ridgill are charged with illegally prescribing the powerful painkillers hydrocodone (known as Vicodin or Norco) and codeine (known on the street as purple drank when promethazine is mixed with codeine cough syrup), alprazolam (known as Xanax) and carisoprodol (a muscle relaxer best known as Soma), according to two criminal complaints unsealed on Friday.
“Oparah issued nearly 13,000 prescriptions for those drugs in a one-year period between July 2014 and July 2015, and Ridgill issued more than 21,000 such prescriptions in a three-year period between July 2011 and July 2014,” officials stated. “All of the prescribed drugs were at or near maximum strength.”
Authorities described 12 undercover operations during which Oparah or Ridgill sold prescriptions in exchange for cash. In most cases, the doctors sold the prescriptions without examining the undercover officer or cooperating witness, according to the release.
An independent review of the undercover recordings and seized patient files from a medical expert confirmed there was no legitimate medical basis for the prescriptions. In writing about Oparah, the expert said his “actions are very alarming” and the evidence reflects “extreme departures from the standard of care,” the affidavit.
“The powerful drugs in this case, which include addictive painkillers, can kill users who abuse them,” stated U.S. Attorney Eileen M. Decker. “The investigation determined that these doctors were significant suppliers of drugs to a street gang. As the charges in the indictments demonstrate, these doctors enabled the gang’s criminal activity just like street-level drug dealers.”
Their arrests happened in conjunction with the “Operation Money Bags” sweep targeting the East Coast Crips street gang. Charges against gang members and their associates were being unsealed today.
The investigation on the doctors was conducted by the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Los Angeles Police Department, the Torrance Police Department, the IRS-Criminal Investigation, the state Medical Board and the Los Angeles High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area.
The cases against them is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Benjamin Barron of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force.