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Press Release

Anesthesiologist Sentenced to Five Years in Prison for Unlawfully Distributing Oxycodone

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Western District of Washington
Moved From Medical Marijuana Authorizations To Distribution Of Narcotic Painkillers

A former hospital anesthesiologist was sentenced today in U.S. District Court in Seattle to five years in prison and three years of supervised release for distribution of oxycodone, announced U.S. Attorney Jenny A. Durkan.  HIEU TU LE, 40, of Snohomish, Washington, a medical doctor licensed in Washington State since 2004, operated medical clinics in Seattle and Everett, Washington.  LE admits that between March 2012 and July 2013 he wrote oxycodone prescriptions for cash and obtained oxycodone that he distributed for cash, all without a legitimate medical need to do so.  At sentencing U. S. District Judge Thomas S. Zilly noted the  “potential public danger of the conduct.”

“This defendant essentially operated an open-air drug market out of the parking lot of his medical clinic,” said U.S. Attorney Jenny A. Durkan.  “As a medical doctor he knew the damage of addiction but sold drugs to feed his greed.”

According to records filed in the case and statements made in court today, LE left his job as an anesthesiologist with Valley General Hospital in Monroe, Washington in March 2012.  From March to September 2012, LE operated a medical clinic on Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood providing medical marijuana authorizations.  In September 2012, LE opened a clinic in Everett called Northwest Green Medical.  Beginning in March 2012 and continuing until July 2013, LE wrote multiple oxycodone prescriptions for cash to people who did not need the prescriptions for legitimate medical purposes.  LE would also hand deliver the prescriptions to an Everett pharmacy, pick up the oxycodone pills, and then sell the pills to people who he knew did not have a legitimate medical need for the pills.  LE knew that some of the people to whom he sold the pills were reselling them to others, feeding drug addiction in the community.  LE’s Everett clinic was the subject of a federal search warrant in July 2013.  At that time, LE voluntarily surrendered his DEA registration, which had authorized him to prescribe controlled substances.

In requesting a lengthy prison sentence, prosecutors highlighted the damage of prescription medication addiction, and LE’s unique culpability.  “According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2010 there were 16,651 overdose deaths involving prescription opioids, a tally which outnumbered overdose deaths from all other illicit drugs (including heroin and cocaine) combined.  In 2009, for the first year ever, opioid deaths surpassed motor vehicle crashes as a cause of death in the United States. …. As a medical doctor, the defendant ignored the harsh realities of addictive painkillers, suggesting that he lost whatever moral compass he may have had,” prosecutors wrote in their sentencing memo.

As part of the plea agreement, LE is forfeiting to the government various brokerage and bank accounts as proceeds of his drug distribution, and a 2009 Toyota Highlander Hybrid purchased with drug distribution proceeds.

The case was investigated by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and Health and Human Services (HHS), and is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Mike Lang and Matthew Diggs.

Updated March 20, 2015