LOS ANGELES – Two doctors who each operated medical offices in Lynwood have been arrested on federal drug charges that allege they issued prescriptions for narcotics and sedatives without a medical purpose.
The two doctors were charged by the United States Attorney's Office in conjunction with an operation conducted by the Torrance Police Department and the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office that targeted members and associates of the East Coast Crips criminal street gang.
The two doctors – Sonny Oparah, 75, of Long Beach, and Edward Ridgill, 64, of Ventura – surrendered to federal authorities on Friday and were released on bond that afternoon after making their first appearances in United States District Court. Both men were ordered to again appear in federal court for arraignments on September 15.
Two criminal complaints unsealed on Friday charge Oparah and Ridgill with illegally prescribing the powerful painkillers hydrocodone (best known as Vicodin or Norco) and codeine (for example, promethazine with codeine cough syrup, which is known on the street as purple drank), alprazolam (commonly known as Xanax), and carisoprodol (a muscle relaxer best known as Soma). According to the affidavit filed in the cases, 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. All of the prescribed drugs were at or near maximum strength.
The affidavit describes 12 undercover operations during which Oparah or Ridgill sold prescriptions in exchange for cash fees. In most instances, the doctors sold the prescriptions without ever examining the undercover officer or cooperating witness. A medical expert's independent review of the undercover recordings and seized patient files confirmed that there was no legitimate medical basis for the prescriptions. The expert, writing about Oparah, said his “actions are very alarming” and the evidence reflects “extreme departures from the standard of care,” according to the affidavit.
“The powerful drugs in this case, which include addictive painkillers, can kill users who abuse them,” said United States 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.”
The arrests of Oparah and Ridgill occurred jointly with a sweep that targeted the East Coast Crips street gang in “Operation Money Bags.” The charges against gang members and their associates are being unsealed today. As described in the federal affidavit, the investigation into Oparah and Ridgill originated when the investigation into the East Coast Crips 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.”
“These arrests demonstrate DEA's resolve to target all drug traffickers regardless of their standing in the community,” said Anthony A. Chrysanthis, Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the DEA's Los Angeles Field Division. “With our law enforcement partners, we will continue our pursuit of those that contribute to the opioid addiction crisis and poison our society under the guise of the medical profession.”
The federal investigation into Oparah and Ridgill showed that they operated cash businesses. Federal authorities made cash seizures 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.
A criminal complaint contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.
The investigation in the federal cases against the doctors was conducted by the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Los Angeles Police Department, the Torrance Police Department, IRS – Criminal Investigation, the California Medical Board and the Los Angeles High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area.
The cases against Oparah and Ridgill is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Benjamin Barron of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force.
Central District of California DOJ / Release No. 16-219 / September 15, 2016