San Jose Doctor Convicted of Twelve Counts of Illegally Prescribing Opioids
SAN JOSE, Calif. – A federal jury yesterday convicted family medicine physician Donald Siao of twelve counts of distributing the controlled substances Oxycodone and Hydrocodone outside the scope of his usual professional practice and without a legitimate medical purpose, announced United States Attorney Ismail J. Ramsey, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Special Agent in Charge Brian M. Clark, and U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG) Special Agent in Charge Steven J. Ryan. The verdicts follow a one-week trial before United States District Judge Beth Labson Freeman.
Siao, 58, is a licensed physician in San Jose practicing family medicine. At trial, the evidence demonstrated that after identifying Siao in a separate prescription fraud investigation, investigators reviewed a California state database and discovered that Siao had written 8,201 prescriptions for controlled substance medications in just the one-year period from May 2016 to May 2017. An investigation ensued in 2017 and 2018 and resulted in Siao prescribing Oxycodone and Hydrocodone in increasing quantities in over seventeen visits with four separate undercover law enforcement agents posing as patients. The undercover agents received prescriptions from Siao despite complaining of only vaguely of pain or discomfort, requesting specific opioids by name, and admitting to sharing the pills with friends and coworkers.
Evidence at trial further established that Siao prescribed dangerous opioids to his patients E.J. and A.J., a mother and son, notwithstanding obvious red flags. Siao continued to prescribe opioids to the mother E.J. after she repeatedly claimed that her pills had been lost or stolen, despite Siao receiving an alert from E.J.’s insurer regarding her opioid prescriptions and despite Siao being advised that E.J. was jailed for selling pills, all documented in Siao’s medical file for E.J. Similarly, Siao prescribed opioids to the son A.J. even after two overdoses. Siao continued to prescribe opioids to A.J. after A.J. repeatedly claimed the opioids were lost or stolen and even after he had been flagged by his prior medical provider for drug-seeking behavior, after his mother reported he had stolen her medications, and after A.J.’s mother E.J. had fatally overdosed on opioids. These facts were all documented in Siao’s medical file for A.J.
Trial evidence also demonstrated that Siao refused to heed warnings that his prescriptions were dangerous. Evidence showed Siao was aware that DEA highly scrutinized opioid prescriptions, even pointing out to one of the undercover officers posing as a patient that a nationwide epidemic was underway in which large numbers of people were addicted to and dying from opioids. Siao nevertheless continued to prescribe opioids to the agents upon their request and with little to no physical examination, and sometimes during visits lasting only a few minutes. Law enforcement agents interviewed Siao in November 2018 about his prescribing practices, and Siao admitted he was aware of the California Medical Board’s Guidelines for Prescribing Controlled Substances for Pain, had learned the dangers of addiction, and had been taught how to identify drug-seeking patients.
The jury convicted Siao of twelve counts of distributing opioids outside the usual course of professional practice and without a legitimate medical purpose, all in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1). Of the 12 counts, four related to the undercover agents and eight related to E.J. and A.J.
U.S. District Judge Freeman scheduled Siao’s sentencing for November 7, 2023. Each of the twelve counts carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. The United States is also seeking forfeiture of Siao’s medical license. The court may also order additional fines, restitution, and supervision upon release from prison as part of any sentence. However, any sentence will be imposed by a court only after consideration of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and the federal statute governing the imposition of a sentence, 18 U.S.C. § 3553.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Amani Floyd and Dan Karmel are prosecuting the case with the assistance of Mimi Lam. The prosecution is the result of an investigation by DEA, HHS-OIG, and the California Department of Justice Division of Medi-Cal Fraud and Elder Abuse.
The case was investigated and prosecuted by member agencies of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF), a focused multi-agency, multi-jurisdictional task force investigating and prosecuting the most significant drug trafficking organizations throughout the United States by leveraging the combined expertise of federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies.