Over the past week, DEA agents arrested six doctors, physician assistants and suspected drug traffickers on federal narcotics charges. Operation Hypocritical Oath also resulted in criminal cases against three other defendants – two of them doctors – and a series of administrative actions by the DEA that led to four medical practitioners losing their licenses.
Dr. Michael Anthony Simental, 47, of Corona, who practices at the Kaiser Permanente facility in Riverside, was arrested on charges of illegally distributing hydrocodone, an opioid found in drugs such as Vicodin.
The investigation into Simental began after one of his patients died of a drug overdose last June. Records from the California Medical Board and Kaiser showed a string of disciplinary actions, complaints about his prescribing practices, and questions about his sobriety while working. A criminal complaint outlines numerous communications between Simental and the overdose victim, some of which indicate that Simental “was aware he was prescribing excessive volumes of opiate drugs” to the woman and her husband.
Gabriel Hernandez, 58, of Anaheim, a physician assistant who works at a Long Beach pain management clinic known as Vortex Wellness & Aesthetics, was arrested on Wednesday pursuant to a criminal complaint that charges him with distributing oxycodone without a legitimate medical purpose. Over a two-year period that ended in November, Hernandez prescribed nearly 6,000 controlled substances – more than half of which were for maximum-strength oxycodone, which means he was responsible for approximately 446,000 oxycodone pills being dispensed, according to court documents.
Hernandez often wrote prescriptions for drug cocktails known as the “holy trinity” – a narcotic, a tranquilizer and/or a muscle relaxant – which are sought out by drug addicts and are particularly dangerous because of the threat of fatal overdose, according to the affidavit in support of the complaint. .
Dr. Reza Ray Ehsan, 60, of Bel-Air, was arrested on charges that allege he unlawfully sold controlled drugs to an agent posing as a patient during undercover meetings in December 2018 and January 2019. As documented in an affidavit in support of a search warrant for Ehsan’s medical files, he sold more than 700,000 pills – mostly opioid painkillers.
An 18-count indictment also alleges that Ehsan structured cash deposits to prevent banks from submitting mandatory reports for currency transactions exceeding $10,000.
Saloumeh Rahbarvafaei, 40, of Northridge, a nurse practitioner employed at several locations, including the Good Neighbor Clinic in Leimert Park, was arrested on charges of unlawfully distributing hydrocodone.
According to the criminal complaint filed in this case, undercover agents purchased prescriptions from Rahbarvafaei during five separate transactions last year. Rahbarvafaei allegedly did not examine either of the two undercover federal agents, and her meetings with them lasted a few minutes each. In each of the five meetings, the agents paid Rahbarvafaei in cash and in return she provided them prescriptions for several narcotics, including hydrocodone, court documents state.
Monica Ann Berlin, 41, of Del Mar, a former employee at a doctor’s office in Beverly Hills and who is presently with a Del Mar-based company that offers perioperative care services, was arrested last Thursday pursuant to a criminal complaint charging her with distribution and possession of a controlled substance. Berlin allegedly stole a signature stamp and prescription pads belonging to the doctor who employed her, and she used them to write fraudulent prescriptions and distribute controlled substances to others.
Berlin allegedly forged at least 44 prescriptions for controlled substances that another person filled at pharmacies in Beverly Hills and Rancho Santa Fe. In exchange for the drugs, Berlin’s buyer treated her to lavish dinners and bought her gifts. According to the complaint, Berlin sent text messages to her buyer using coded language by describing the drugs as “candies” and “Tic Tacs.”
Ana Leblanc, 33, of Chino Hills, who worked at a Santa Ana clinic for two weeks last year, was arrested this morning on charges of fraudulently obtaining prescription drugs.
Leblanc, who has no authority to handle or prescribe controlled substances, used a prescription pad from her employer to write prescriptions for controlled substances, including oxycodone, to herself and others without the knowledge or approval of the doctor listed on the prescription script. In addition, she created a patient chart for herself at her place of employment, “diagnosed” herself with anxiety, and ordered Xanax from the clinic’s medication supply.