MIAMI — A U.S. grand jury in Florida has indicted a doctor and a pharmacist on charges of illegally dispensing prescription drugs involved in the deaths of 12 people, authorities said Friday.
The 287-count indictment, handed up by a federal grand jury in Fort Lauderdale on Thursday, charged Dr. Barbara Mazzella and pharmacist Donald Arneson with conspiracy and distribution of controlled substances at Mazzella's medical practice in Coral Springs, Fla.
"It is alleged that they provided the drugs that killed 12 people," said Drug Enforcement Administration spokesman Brent Eaton.
Mazzella, 61, was arrested in April on fraud and drug charges and has since been held at a federal detention center. Arneson, 58, was arrested Friday at his home at a nudist colony in Lutz, Fla., Eaton said.
If convicted of conspiracy and distribution of controlled substances with resulting deaths, the two would face possible prison sentences of 20 years to life and fines up to $1 million.
The indictment alleged Mazzella prescribed addictive drugs--including Valium, synthetic narcotics and the sedative Seconal--while Arneson, operating a pharmacy in the same building, dispensed the drugs.
"They are the most highly abused prescription drugs," Eaton said. "It's alleged that this was simply a place for addicts to go to get drugs."
Some of at least 26 patients to whom Mazzella allegedly prescribed the drugs became addicted and at least 12 died, apparently of accidental overdoses, he said.
The indictment also charged Mazzella and an employee, Barbara Garafola, 54, of Coral Springs, with conspiring to defraud Medicare and private health insurance carriers by billing them for services that had not been rendered.
The latest indictment superseded earlier charges against Mazzella and added charges against Arneson and Garafola.