BEL AIR—Nine Southern California medical professionals were arrested in addition to suspected drug traffickers, during a DEA crackdown on illegal opioid prescriptions on Thursday, February 21. Officials seized upward of $3 million in cash, as well as counterfeit drugs containing fentanyl.
U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents raided medical offices as a part of “Operation Hypocritical Oath.” The operation targeted medical professionals in several states who are suspected of illegally providing patients with controlled substances through the black market; this is a clear violation of their oath to “do no harm.” U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna said during a news conference following the raid of a Northridge doctor’s home that this was a “stern message to corrupt doctors who seek to profit from spreading addiction.”
A total of 10 search warrants were issued as part of this crackdown. Hanna states that the nine defendants arrested are responsible for nearly 1.5 million illegally prescribed opioid pills, some of which were diverted to resale on the streets. Fifteen people died due to drugs prescribed by the medical professionals. Authorities are investigating the possibility of a correlation between these deaths and the opioid allegations.
According to a press release from the U.S. Department of Justice, the nine individuals arrested during the operation include:
- Dr. Reza Ray Ehsan of Bel Air, 60: Arrested to charges of selling controlled drugs to an agent posing as a patient. According to an affidavit, he sold more than 700,000 pills in 2015 and 2016, and failed to report these sales to the Controlled Substance Utilization Review and Evaluation System.
- Christopher James Lazenby, 28, of Homeland: Allegedly stole physician DEA numbers and birthdates to use the DEA online registration system. He changed the addresses of 8 doctors to rented mailboxes in South LA.
- Monica Ann Berlin, 41, of Del Mar: Arrested on Thursday to charges of possession and distribution of controlled substances. She stole a doctor’s signature stamp and prescription pads to write fraudulent prescriptions. She worked at a doctor’s office in Beverly Hills.
- Dr. Robert Tinoco Perez, 33, of Chino Hills: Pled guilty to charges of writing fraudulent prescriptions to a drug dealer who shared profits with Perez.
- Gabriel Hernandez, 58, of Anaheim: Arrested on Wednesday, February 20 on charges claiming he distributed oxycodone without medical purposes. According to court documents, for approximately two years, he’s distributed nearly 6,000 controlled substances, totaling to approximately 446,000 oxycodone pills dispensed. He’s a physician assistant at Vortex Wellness & Aesthetics.
- Dr. Michael Anthony Simental, 57, of Corona: Arrested for illegally distributing hydrocodone — an opioid found in drugs such as Vicodin. He used to practice at Kaiser Permanente in Riverside.
- Saloumeh Rabharvafaei, 40, of Northridge: Arrested on charges of distributing hydrocodone illegally. She’s a nurse practitioner.
- Dr. Dzung Anh Pham, 57, of Tustin: Arrested on federal charges of illegally prescribing the “holy trinity” cocktail for patients he didn’t examine. He pled not guilty, but if convicted, he faces 120 years in federal prison.
- Ana Leblanc, 33, of Chino Hills: Arrested on charges of illegally obtaining prescription drugs.
“As we battle the opioid crisis with interdictions, the dismantling of trafficking organizations and community outreach, we cannot ignore corrupt medical professionals who flood our communities with those same drugs that are killing people each and every day across America,” said United States Attorney Nick Hanna. “Doctors and trained practitioners know better than anyone the twin dangers of addiction and overdose that come with powerful narcotics. Prosecutors in my office have targeted these drug dealers in lab coats for many years, and we will not rest until we see the end of abusive prescribing practices.”
“The successful conclusion of Operation Hypocritical Oath is a testament to not only the hard work of the men and women of the DEA, but is indicative of the terrific partnership with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and our federal, state, and local partners,” said DEA Los Angeles Special Agent in Charge David J. Downing. “Today’s arrests and administrative actions should put crooked medical professionals and street dealers alike on notice – we will not tolerate opioids being illegal pushed onto our streets.”