An Orange County doctor who authorities said brazenly sold prescriptions for pills as potent as heroin out of Starbucks coffeehouses was arrested late Tuesday after being indicted on federal drug charges.
Dr. Alvin Ming-Czech Yee, 43, of Mission Viejo routinely wrote prescriptions for oxycodone, sometimes referred to as synthetic heroin, to his patients, a third of whom were 25 or younger, authorities alleged in court papers.
Yee sold the prescriptions for cash after cursory examinations that were often conducted in coffeehouses and other unusual locales, court documents state. He once took out his prescription pad in a Las Vegas casino to generate more cash for gambling, according to a search warrant affidavit filed in U.S. District Court in Santa Ana.
On another occasion, he met a patient in the showroom of an Irvine Toyota dealer where Yee was buying a new car, according to the affidavit written by Drug Enforcement Administration Agent Mark Nomady. After a few minutes of talking and laughing with Yee, the patient left with a prescription.
Yee pleaded not guilty Wednesday during a hearing in front of U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert Block. His bond was set at $500,000.
Yee's attorney, Shepard Kopp, declined to comment because he had not yet reviewed the 56-count indictment with his client.
At least one of Yee's patients, a 21-year-old woman from Huntington Beach, died of a drug overdose in August after he prescribed drugs for her, according to a preliminary finding by the Orange County coroner's office, the affidavit states. From November 2010 to August 2011, the woman received 28 prescriptions from Yee, according to the documents.
Several other overdose deaths in which Yee may have played a role are under investigation, the affidavit states.
Investigators have seized large quantities of commonly abused drugs linked to Yee from suspected drug dealers and others in Seattle, Phoenix and Detroit, the affidavit states. One man was arrested twice in Seattle on charges of trying to sell hundreds of tablets of the painkillers OxyContin and Roxicodone prescribed by Yee, court records state.
A medical expert who reviewed Yee's practice for federal prosecutors called it "a front for drug dealing."
Federal prosecutors say Yee met up to a dozen people almost every evening between 7 p.m. and 11 p.m. in Starbucks stores throughout Orange County. Yee allegedly charged as much as $600 for meetings in exchange for prescriptions for drugs such as OxyContin, Vicodin, Xanax and Adderall, according to the affidavit.
Yee's examinations lasted about a minute and consisted of checking patients' blood pressure and pulse, and asking them to bend over to touch their toes, the affidavit states. Yee laughed and joked with patients — and undercover DEA agents — and told them business was good, prosecutors allege.
Several area pharmacists refused to honor prescriptions written by Yee because of the large number and high dosages of his narcotic prescriptions, according to court documents.
The patients aroused suspicions, in part, because they were between 25 and 30, came in groups and paid cash, said one pharmacist cited by the affidavit.
Yee said some pharmacies started "freaking out" when they saw his patients with multiple potent medications on the same prescription sheet, the affidavit states.
"They are giving me the reaction like I'm the devil or something," Yee allegedly told a source assisting the DEA.
Assistant U.S. Atty. Ann Luotto Wolf, who is prosecuting Yee, said the problem of doctors prescribing medications without a legitimate medical purpose is a significant one.
"I think it is becoming more recognized, and certainly more indictments like that of Dr. Yee will make the public more aware of what's occurring," Wolf said.