Las Vegas Physician and Pharmacist Charged with Unlawful Sales of Large Quantities of Prescription Painkillers
|U.S. Attorney’s Office September 29, 2011|
LAS VEGAS—Three men, including a Las Vegas physician, his assistant, and a local pharmacist, have been indicted by the federal grand jury on charges that they conspired to unlawfully distribute large quantities of highly addictive prescription drugs in and around Las Vegas, announced Daniel G. Bogden, United States Attorney for the District of Nevada.
Henri Wetselaar, M.D., 87, David Litwin, 52, both of Las Vegas, and Jason C. Smith, R.PH., 43, currently of Ira, Michigan, are each charged with one count of conspiracy to distribute oxycodone. Wetselaar is also charged with eight counts of distribution of oxycodone, one count of money laundering, and 10 counts of structuring money transactions. Litwin is also charged with eight counts of distribution of oxycodone and three counts of making a false statement to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). The indictment was returned by the grand jury on September 21, 2011, and unsealed this morning following the arrests of the defendants.
“A large part of our effort to combat unlawful prescription drug trafficking in Nevada has included the targeting and investigation of local physicians and pharmacists who are writing and selling prescriptions that are not being issued for a legitimate medical purpose or in the usual course of professional practice,” said U.S. Attorney Bogden. “Since January 2010, we have filed federal charges against approximately 70 individuals, including two doctors and a pharmacist, for unlawfully distributing highly addictive prescription painkillers. Our federal and local law enforcement partners are working tirelessly to shut down these dangerous pill mills and pharmacist co-conspirators.”
Defendants Wetselaar and Litwin are scheduled to appear before United States Magistrate Judge Peggy Leen at 3:00 p.m. today. Defendant Smith is scheduled to appear today before a United States Magistrate Judge in Detroit, Michigan.
If convicted, the defendants face up to 20 years in prison and a $1,000,000 fine on the drug conspiracy and on each drug distribution counts. Westelaar also faces up to 10 years in prison on each money laundering and structuring count and fines of between $250,000 and $500,000. Litwin also faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine on each false statement count. Additionally, the government is seeking forfeiture of any properties of the defendants up to $3.6 million.
According to the indictment, Wetselaar is a licensed physician in Nevada who represented himself to be a specialist in pain management. Wetselaar performed house calls and also maintained a medical practice at 4525 S. Sandhill Road on the east side of Las Vegas. Litwin held himself out to be Wetselaar’s medical assistant, but in fact he was not licensed by the State of Nevada and had no verifiable medical credentials in the United States. Wetselaar and Litwin allegedly prescribed large amounts of highly addictive prescription drugs, including oxycodone, hydrocodone, Xanax, and Soma, to persons who did not have a medical necessity for the drugs. Wetselaar and Litwin directed their patients to Lam’s Pharmacy at 2202 W. Charleston Road in Las Vegas, where Smith, a licensed pharmacist in Nevada and the pharmacy manager, filled and directed his staff to fill the unnecessary prescriptions, knowing that the drugs would be illegally diverted. An overwhelming majority of Wetselaar and Litwin’s “patients” including at least two known drug dealers who are not identified in the indictment, filled their prescriptions at Lam’s Pharmacy by agreement with Smith.
The indictment alleges that between September 28, 2009, and August 16, 2010, Wetselaar made 31 cash deposits, totaling $263,000, each for the purpose of evading federal laws that require financial institutions to file reports.
“Every day, more than 7,000 people begin misusing prescription drugs for the first time—that is more than any other class of illicit drug, even marijuana,” said Timothy J. Landrum, Special Agent in Charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration. “Unfortunately, some individuals fuel this problem by choosing to line their pockets with money at the expense of those vulnerable to these drugs. DEA is committed to working with our law enforcement partners to ensure that those who endanger our citizens by abusing their authority are brought to justice.”
Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that Schedule II prescription painkillers, like oxycodone, today cause more drug overdose deaths than cocaine and heroin combined. Oxycodone and other Schedule II drugs have a high potential for abuse and can be crushed and snorted, or dissolved and injected, to get an immediate high. This abuse can lead to addiction, overdose, and sometimes death.
The case is being investigated by the DEA and IRS Criminal Investigation, with assistance from the FBI, Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, Henderson Police Department, and Nevada Department of Public Safety. It is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Crane M. Pomerantz, Patrick Walsh, J. Gregg Damm, and Christina Silva.
An indictment contains only charges and is not evidence of guilt. The defendants are presumed innocent and are entitled to a fair trial at which the government has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.