LOS ANGELES, CA – A medical doctor who maintained clinics in Downey and the Westlake District pleaded guilty this afternoon to federal narcotics charges for distributing powerful and addictive painkillers to “patients” he did not examine and who simply paid cash for prescriptions. Nazar Al Bussam, 72, of Newport Coast, pleaded guilty to 18 felony charges, including conspiracy and distributing controlled substances without a legitimate medical purpose.
Al Bussam pleaded guilty before United States District Judge S. James Otero, who scheduled a sentencing hearing for October 5. As a result of today’s guilty pleas, Al Bussam faces a statutory maximum sentence of 230 years in federal prison, a lifetime period of supervised release, and a fine of up to $11.5 million.
In a plea agreement filed last night in United States District Court, Al Bussam admitted that on numerous occasions in 2009 and 2010 he distributed oxycodone, hydromorphone, hydrocodone, alprazolam, and promethazine with codeine. He admitted that he wrote prescriptions for these narcotics that were outside of the usual course of professional practice and without a legitimate medical purpose. Al Bussam sold the prescriptions to individuals for cash, and the individuals later filled the prescriptions at pharmacies.
“Doctor Al Bussam abused his position to line his pockets by supplying narcotics to people involved in street-level drug dealing,” said United States Attorney André Birotte Jr. “In doing so, Al Bussam violated his oath to ‘do no harm’ and contributed to the growing problem of prescription drug abuse.” Al Bussam wrote prescriptions to cash-paying customers and undercover agents with the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Medical Board of California. Al Bussam specifically admitted that he illegally wrote prescriptions for oxycodone, which is sold under a number of brand names, including Percocet; hydromorphone, which is sold under the brand name, Dilaudid; hydrocodone, which is commonly sold under the brand names Vicodin, Norco and Lortab; alprazolam, which is marketed under the brand name Xanax; and promethazine with codeine, which is used to make a street concoction variously known as “sizzurp,” “purple drank” or “lean.”
Al Bussam was arrested last October at his Westlake clinic, along with two of his employees – Rosemary Mendoza, 75, of West Covina, and Santiago Mendoza (also known as “James Park”), 82, of Corona. Santiago Mendoza has pleaded guilty and is scheduled to be sentenced later this year. Rosemary Mendoza entered into a diversion agreement with the United States.
According to court documents, Al Bussam came to the attention of the DEA in 2007 when a review of DEA databases indicated Al Bussam was among the top 10 prescribers of controlled substances in the Los Angeles area. In addition, several pharmacies in the Los Angeles area had contacted the DEA regarding Al Bussam’s unusual and suspicious prescribing practices. An affidavit previously filed in this case noted that several of Al Bussam’s “patients” were arrested in California and Texas for illegally selling drugs prescribed by the doctor.
As part of the investigation, undercover operatives went to Al Bussam’s clinic, saw the doctor and purchased prescriptions for various controlled substances, paying $200 in cash for each prescription on the first visit, and $100 in follow-up visits. According to court documents, the DEA reviewed records related to Al Bussam prescriptions and estimated that in recent years the doctor received well over $1 million annually from illicit prescriptions.
In the plea agreement filed this afternoon, Al Bussam agreed to forfeit more than $450,000 that was seized by authorities in the course of this investigation. “Statistics concerning prescription drug abuse reveal a disturbing trend, that the number of individuals abusing prescription drugs exceeds the number of current users of cocaine, heroin, hallucinogens and methaphetamine combined. Every day more than 2,100 12- to 17-year-olds abuse a prescription drug for the first time,” said Timothy J. Landrum, Special Agent in Charge of the DEA. “Reducing prescription drug abuse is vital to our communities and a priority for DEA. Unfortunately, some doctors abuse their authority and prescribe these drugs for no medical purpose. DEA will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to ensure those who endanger our citizens are brought to justice.”
The investigation in this case was conducted by the Drug Enforcement Administration, which received assistance from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and the Medical Board of California.