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Doctor Faces Counts of Drug Trafficking, Practicing Illegally

December 15, 1987|JIM CARLTON | Times Staff Writer

An unlicensed Anaheim doctor is to be arraigned today on federal charges that he trafficked in controlled prescription drugs while illegally practicing medicine.

Gerard F. Smith, 64, a cosmetic surgeon, was arrested Saturday morning in a restaurant across the street from his medical office at 710 S. Brookhurst St. in Anaheim. Investigators from the California Board of Medical Quality Assurance and federal Drug Enforcement Administration took Smith into custody following their joint six-month investigation.

Smith allegedly used phony documents to order and receive 600,000 dosage units of controlled drugs from various pharmaceutical companies between January, 1986, and July of this year, said DEA spokesman Roger Guevara. The drugs included such common pharmaceuticals as Valium, Guevara said.

Smith, who faced similar charges four years ago that were dropped after the state revoked his medical license, has been held in the federal lockup at Terminal Island. A determination on bond is to be made today when he appears before U.S. Magistrate Ralph J. Geffen.

Smith could not be reached for comment Monday. A telephone number for his office in Anaheim has been disconnected.

State and federal officials said the case illustrates the problem of unlicensed or nonpracticing doctors trafficking in controlled drugs.

"The consequence for the public health is as great if not greater than the illicit drugs that come in from out of the country (because) they are more potent," said Guevara. "Studies by the Drug Abuse Warning Network (a government program) show 16 out of the 20 most encountered drugs in hospital emergency rooms are legal drugs."

Felix Rodriguez, supervising investigator of the Board of Medical Quality Assurance office in Santa Ana, said "we've had quite a few" cases involving non-practicing or unlicensed doctors dispensing prescription drugs illegally.

It is difficult to prove crimes against non-practicing doctors who have simply quit seeing patients, Rodriguez said, because the doctors keep their DEA registration numbers that entitle them to order controlled drugs directly from manufacturers.

Prescription drugs cannot be dispensed without a medical examination from a practicing doctor.

In the most recent case, Smith's DEA registration number was revoked because his medical license was pulled. He is accused of falsifying a new DEA number as well as a state medical certificate after his license was revoked in August, 1985, authorities said.

Smith was dispensing the drugs while at the same time seeing patients without a license, Guevara said.

"He was playing doctor at length," Guevara said.

Practicing medicine without a license is a misdemeanor crime punishable by up to one year in prison. But Rodriguez said the state might not pursue that lesser charge since the DEA is pursuing the much more serious charge of drug trafficking, which carries up to a 10-year prison term.

Smith's license was revoked by the Board of Medical Quality Assurance after he was indicted by a federal grand jury in Arkansas for allegedly taking part in a prescription drug trafficking conspiracy.

The indictment came down in 1983 after a DEA investigation indicated that he was selling amphetamines and other controlled substances in Orange County to an Arkansas truck driver who was a former patient. The federal indictment was not pursued due to the license revocation, medical board investigators said.

At the time of the indictment, Smith was on state probation for five years for prescribing excessive amounts of drugs to 61 patients over a four-month period in 1978. The Board of Medical Quality Assurance also suspended his license for 60 days, a period during which he was prohibited from possessing or dispensing prescription drugs.

But Smith continued to see patients and dispense drugs during his suspension, Board of Medical Quality Assurance investigators said. The drugs included Preludin, Dexedrine and Demerol. Those violations, combined with the drug trafficking arrest, prompted state officials to revoke the doctor's license.

At the time of his arrest Saturday, Smith had petitioned the Board of Medical Quality Assurance to reinstate his license. The petition request was pending. A physician can petition the state to reinstate his license one year after it has been revoked, Rodriguez said.

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