State agents served search warrants Friday at the homes, offices and billing locations of at least two physicians who authorities believe played a part in providing prescription drugs to Anna Nicole Smith, who died earlier this year of a drug overdose.
The operation came as Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown vowed to launch a statewide crackdown on the abuse of prescription drugs, a problem he said may be as extensive as the trade in illicit narcotics.
The case also marks another twist in the legal wrangling surrounding the former Playboy Playmate, whose estate and custody of her infant daughter have already been the subject of high-profile proceedings.
"The coroner's report on her death was that [Smith] died of drug intoxication, and they listed the drugs," Brown said in an interview. "I have long been concerned about prescription drugs . . . and I have a feeling the volume of so-called lawful drugs may equal the volume of illegal ones. But I do know lots of people are damaging their lives with chemicals, and lots of doctors are abusing their authority."
The raids in Los Angeles and Orange counties were part of a six-month investigation into whether drugs were unlawfully prescribed and dispensed to Smith, a 39-year-old model who was found dead Feb. 8 in a hotel in Hollywood, Fla.
A source familiar with the investigation said search warrants were served on Dr. Sandeep Kapoor, who was reported to have prescribed methadone to Smith for pain management, and on Smith's psychiatrist, Dr. Khristine Eroshevich.
Kapoor and Eroshevich did not return calls to their offices Friday.
But Eroshevich's lawyer, Gary Lincenberg, said in an e-mail that he was making no further comments on the matter. He earlier told KNBC-TV Channel 4 that the investigation involved only whether Eroshevich's prescriptions followed state law regarding controlled substances.
"This has nothing to do with whether or not Dr. Eroshevich in any way contributed to Anna Nicole Smith's death," Lincenberg said.
State medical officials opened an investigation of Kapoor in February after reports that he allegedly prescribed methadone to Smith under the alias Michelle Chase. Kapoor has said he cannot discuss details of Smith's treatment because of patient confidentiality.
The celebrity website TMZ.com posted a document that it said was the prescription order issued by Kapoor for Chase at Key Pharmacy in Valley Village. The website also posted a document that it claimed was the shipping bill from Key Pharmacy to Vicky Marshall -- a combination of Smith's birth name, Vickie Lynn Hogan, and the last name of her late husband, Texas oil tycoon J. Howard Marshall -- in the Bahamas.
State Medical Board officials said that among the issues they were examining was the legality of prescribing medication to someone using an alias.
Ira Freeman, owner of Key Pharmacy, said his business was not searched Friday, but that he was interviewed by authorities in March or April. He said there was no reason for a search warrant to be issued for his pharmacy because state officials already have prescription records for dangerous drugs.
"I have cooperated totally . . . and have spent many hours with state and federal authorities," said Freeman, who would not say what investigators asked him or comment on whether they were interested in any prescriptions by Kapoor.
Sandi Gibbons, a spokeswoman for Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley, said six of the search warrants were served in the county.
At a news conference in downtown Los Angeles, Brown did not specify who was targeted in the operation or what evidence was seized, saying only that the state's actions were related to "doctors who provided medical treatment or prescription drugs for Anna Nicole Smith or her associates."
Brown said investigators developed evidence that pointed to violations of the state medical code and possible criminal conduct, although he declined to say what that might be or whether it could result in charges filed in connection with Smith's death.
Although he would not discuss the investigation in detail, Brown said it included interviews with witnesses throughout the United States and abroad, as well as the review of more than 100,000 computer images and files, patient profiles and pharmacy logs.
Among the cooperating agencies are the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and authorities in Florida and the Bahamas.
Brown said he ordered an inquiry into circumstances surrounding Smith's death after the autopsy and other public reports made it clear that the celebrity had drugs "prescribed in huge quantities in California by California professionals."
Brown said he directed his law enforcement division to "be more vigilant and spend more resources" to root out prescription drug-related crimes.
He also said investigators would make better use of the attorney general's prescription database, which shows who is prescribing, selling and receiving potentially dangerous drugs and the quantities involved.