75 year old Egisto Salerno, M.D., an internal medicine physician practicing in San Diego, was sentenced to 18 months in custody for causing the illegal distribution of an opioid pain medication commonly known as Norco or Vicodin.
He is a 1976 graduate of the National University of La Plata Faculty of Medicine in Argentina, and licensed in California on January 4, 1982. He surrendered his California medical license on May 25, 2018 and is no longer licensed to practice medicine in California. He stipulated to surrender his license to resolve disciplinary actions then pending against him for gross negligence.
Salerno, whose medical practice was located at 5532 El Cajon Boulevard, pleaded guilty in January, admitting that he signed prescriptions for 78,544 pills that lacked a legitimate medical purpose and were outside the usual course of professional medical practice.
Salerno also admitted that an undercover federal agent who visited Salerno’s office on six occasions received six hydrocodone prescriptions.
In a separate instance, on a date when the undercover agent did not visit Salerno’s office and the doctor did not see him, Salerno acknowleged that a prescription was improperly issued by him in the name used by the undercover agent. After the prescription was issued, Salerno ginned up and signed a progress note in the “patient” chart for the purported visit that did not occur.
The prescription was then picked up by another as part of a larger scheme to divert these pills. That scheme involved two medical assistants in Salerno’s practice who falsified medical records and sold prescriptions that Salerno had pre-signed to a co-defendant though the “patients” identified on those prescriptions did not even see Salerno.
In fact, as Salerno acknowledged, many of those in whose names these prescriptions were written were deceased or jailed at the time the prescriptions were written.
The pills were, in turn, diverted to the “capper” or patient recruiter, who also arranged to bring homeless and other individuals to Salerno’s office and paid them to secure these prescriptions from Salerno. Others assisted the patient recruiter by transporting the purported patients to Salerno’s office and then to pharmacies to pick up the pills. In turn, pills were sold in San Diego and delivered to a pharmacy in Mexico for cash.
As the plea documents show, the criminal activity occurred between November 2014 and February 2018. Seven other defendants have been convicted in this case including Salerno’s two medical assistants – April J. Cervantes and David D. Apple; the lead patient “recruiter” – Stephen Toney; and Toney’s associates – Shalina D. Latson, Lonnell Ligon, LaJuan D. Smith and Amber N. Grabau.
Defendant David D. Apple, one of Salerno’s medical assistants, will be sentenced on December 2, 2020.