News from DEA, Domestic Field Divisions, Houston News Releases, 07/17/09
Drug Agents Seize Records of Michael Jackson’s Doctor
More than two dozen federal agents and police officers descended on the Houston office of Michael Jackson’s personal physician on Wednesday and seized medical records, and a lawyer for the doctor said the authorities were looking for evidence of manslaughter.
In the early morning raid, about 25 officers — including several agents of the Drug Enforcement Agency — scoured the Armstrong Medical Clinic in North Houston, where the physician, Dr. Conrad Murray, keeps an office, as local police officers stood guard outside.
In a statement released shortly after the search began, lawyers for Dr. Murray said the agents were executing a warrant that authorized them to “search for and seize items, including documents, they believed constituted evidence of the offense of manslaughter.” They said the agents seized a forensic image of a business computer hard drive and 21 documents.
“None of the documents taken had previously been requested by law enforcement or the L.A. Coroner’s office,” they said.
It was unclear if the authorities had imminent plans on filing charges against Dr. Murray in connection with Mr. Jackson’s death.
Dr. Murray, who was with Mr. Jackson when he died, has been questioned by investigators on two separate occasions, but a spokesman for Dr. Murray said recently that detectives have requested a third interview and asked him to provide additional medical records.
In a telephone interview, Violet M. Szeleczky of the drug agency, said the agents — joined by two detectives from the Los Angeles Police Department’s homicide division — were executing the search warrant at at the request of the L.A.P.D. She declined however to elaborate on what the officers were looking for, saying the warrant was sealed.
“This is just a state search warrant and we’re here facilitating up on the request of the L.A.P.D.,” she said. “They came to us for assistance and we are doing that.”
The Los Angeles coroner’s office has yet to release the results of its autopsy on Mr. Jackson’s body, but the police department was reportedly acting on preliminary results suggesting that one or more drugs found in lethal amounts in the singer’s system came from Dr. Murray’s office.
The clinic in North Houston is owned by Dr. Davill Armstrong, who has had previous run ins with the authorities. Dr. Armstrong’s license was suspended and his clinic briefly shut down for a time after he was accused of improperly prescribing medication.
Dr. Murray, who has numerous legal judgments against him in the past, was not at the clinic at the time of the raid.
On Wednesday, Tammy Kidd, a publicist for Ed Chernoff, the lawyer representing Dr. Murray, said that the search. “was a surprise” to Mr. Chernoff and his associates.
Mr. Chernoff has said that Dr. Murray did not prescribe any drugs that may have caused Mr. Jackson’s death. In a statement released Tuesday, he said investigators were seeking “more information” from Dr. Murray, including Mr. Jackson’s medical records.
“The coroner wants to clear up the cause of death, we share that goal,” he said. “We don’t have access to the most important information in this case, the toxicology report. We’re still in the dark like everybody else. Based on Dr. Murray’s minute-by-minute and item-by-item description of Michael Jackson’s last days, he should not be a target of criminal charges. Dr. Murray was the last doctor standing when Michael Jackson died and it seems all the fury is directed toward him.”
By noon on Wednesday, the search of Dr. Murray’s office had turned into a spectacle. At least eight Houston police vehicles surrounded the clinic, news helicopters hovered above, and crowds of onlookers gathered nearby. Television images showed federal agents and local officers carting bags of evidence out of the clinic and loading them in the police cars.
Standing outside the clinic, Agent Szeleczky insisted that the search was not a raid, despite the heavy federal and local police presence.
“It’s not a raid,” she said. “A raid means we’re busting in with firearms. That’s not the case.”
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 17, 2008Contact: Violet M. SzeleczkyNumber: (713) 693-3474
Two Houston Area Doctors Charged in Conspiracy to Illegally Distribute Narcotics and Medicare/Medicain Fraud
JUL 17 -- (HOUSTON) - Dr. Arun Sharma and his wife, Dr. Kiran Sharma, M.D., both 54, have been charged in a 29-count indictment alleging conspiracy to unlawfully dispense and distribute controlled substances outside the scope of professional practice and not for a legitimate medical purpose, United States Attorney Tim Johnson, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Special Agent in Charge Zoran B. Yankovich and Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott announced today. The indictment alleges the two doctors illegally distributed 1.3 million tablets of hydrocodone and further charges the two doctors with conspiracy to defraud Medicare, Medicaid and several private health insurance companies of $31 million by filing false claims for medical procedures that were never performed.
“This indictment reflects the DEA’s effort to identify and target doctors who discredit the medical health profession who are nothing more than drug peddlers in doctors’ gowns motivated by greed with no regard for the well being of the public,” said DEA Special Agent in Charge Zorn B. Yankovich. “By obtaining the voluntary surrender of DEA registration’s from questionable doctors, the DEA Tactical Diversion Squad is able to put these illegal practices out of business. The DEA will continue to pursue these pain clinic-pill mill operations that have taken root in the Houston area.”
According to the allegations in the indictment returned by a federal grand jury late yesterday afternoon, the Sharmas operate the Allergy, Asthma, Arthritis and Pain Centers located at on Cole Street in Webster, Texas, and another on Garth Road in Baytown, Texas. The indictment alleges that Dr. Arun Sharma routinely saw in excess of 70 patients per day and that he routinely wrote prescriptions for hydrocodone that were not for a legitimate medical purpose in exchange for cash payments. Dr. Sharma allegedly received the cash payments for his hydrocodone prescriptions directly from the patient and that he instructed his patients to take the prescriptions to certain pharmacies to be filled.
Arun and Kiran Sharma, according to the indictment, stored large amounts of cash received from the sale of hydrocodone prescriptions at their home. Kiran Sharma allegedly transported large amounts of cash received from the sale of the hydrocodone prescriptions to two safe deposit boxes - one each at Bank of America and Prosperity Bank.
The doctors also were charged with specific counts of illegal drug distribution for hydrocodone prescriptions written to specific patients. In one count, they are charged with prescribing more than 8,000 tablets of hydrocodone to one patient over an eight month period. In two other counts, they are charged with prescribing 540 tablets of hydrocodone to one patient on May 23, 2005, and another 540 tablets to the same patient on Dec. 5, 2005.
Both doctors are also accused of conspiring to defraud Medicare, Medicaid and private healthcare insurers including Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas, Aetna, Cigna and United Healthcare of more than $31 million for facet joint injections and other medical procedures that were allegedly never performed.
The United States also gave notice in the indictment to the doctors that it intended to forfeit their interest in all of the proceeds of the fraud and the drug distribution.
The court has ordered that a summons issue directing the Sharma’s to appear in federal court for arraignment on Aug. 3, 2009.
Upon conviction, each of the 17 health care fraud counts and the healthcare conspiracy charge carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in a federal prison and a $250,000 fine. The drug conspiracy and each of the 10 drug distribution counts carries a penalty of five years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine. Parole has been abolished in the federal prison system.
The criminal charges are the result of a joint investigation being conducted by agents of the FBI, the DEA, the Department of Health and Human Services-Office of Inspector General and the Medicare Fraud Control Unit of the Texas Attorney General's Office in conjunction with the Webster, League City and Baytown Police Departments. The case will be prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Al Balboni.
An indictment is an accusation of criminal conduct, not evidence.
A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until convicted through due process of law.