SANTA ANA, California – A Santa Barbara-area physician who wrote numerous prescriptions for powerful painkillers for “patients” – many of whom were drug addicts, and some of whom died from drug overdoses – was sentenced today to 327 months in federal prison.
Julio Gabriel Diaz, 67, a Goleta resident who operated the Family Medical Clinic in Santa Barbara and was known to some “patients” as the “Candyman,” was sentenced by United States District Judge Cormac J. Carney.
Diaz was sentenced today after being found guilty in August by a federal jury. During the 2½-week trial, prosecutors showed that Diaz was a prolific writer of prescriptions for highly addictive and dangerous drugs and that he distributed the drugs outside of the usual course of professional practice and without a legitimate medical purpose.
In 2011, for example, Diaz wrote prescriptions for more than 1.7 million doses of painkillers. His “patients” typically paid cash and received prescriptions for powerful drugs that included opioids, anti-anxiety medications and muscle relaxants. Several doctors and pharmacists who testified during the trial said that they had never seen any doctor prescribe the combination and quantity of drugs prescribed by Diaz.
“Driven by financial gain, this doctor wrote a staggering number of prescriptions for people, many of whom were clearly abusing the drugs,” said United States Attorney Eileen M. Decker. “Diaz ignored family members who begged him to stop prescribing prescription pain medications to loved ones, and he ignored warnings from doctors and pharmacists that his ‘patients’ were abusing the drugs and suffering overdoses – in some cases fatally overdosing. Doctors who abuse their position of trust and violate their oath pose a significant threat to public health, and we will continue to target them when they commit acts that are not driven by a medical necessity.”
Diaz was found guilty of 79 counts of distribution of a controlled substance. Twenty-six of the charges relate to oxycodone (a drug often sold under the brand name OxyContin), 10 of the charges relate to methadone, seven of the counts relate to hydromorphone (a drug commonly sold under the brand name Dilaudid), 10 of the charges relate to fentanyl, 11 of the charges relate to hydrocodone (a drug often sold under the brand names Vicodin and Norco), 10 of the charges relate to alprazolam (a drug often sold under brand name Xanax), and five of the charges related to the distribution of various controlled substances to a minor.
According to the evidence presented at trial, doctors, nurses and other personnel with Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital wrote to the Medical Board of California and gave statements to investigators to complain about Diaz. Cottage Hospital doctors believed that Diaz posed such a threat that they prepared a spreadsheet documenting emergency room visits by patients who had been prescribed narcotics by Diaz.
“A medical doctor trusted by society, defendant [Diaz] stopped treating patients and became a drug dealer,” prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memorandum. “He turned young people into addicts and/or fueled the addictions of drug abusers.”
Diaz was arrested in this case in January 2012. After being free on bond for a time, he was taken into custody and has remained in custody since January 2014. After his arrest, the state of California revoked his license after finding that he provided incompetent and grossly negligent care.
The investigation into Diaz was conducted by the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Santa Barbara Police Department, which received the assistance of the California Medical Board.