A former Santa Barbara physician linked to 11 drug-related patient deaths pleaded guilty in federal court Thursday to 11 counts of distributing controlled substances without a legitimate medical purpose.
Dr. Julio Diaz, 65, of Goleta, who formerly operated the Family Medical Clinic at 510 Milpas St., was arrested Jan. 4, 2012, by agents with the Drug Enforcement Administration.
According to an affidavit, Diaz was behind more than 400 drug-related emergency room visits in a two-year period, and allegedly exchanged drugs for sexual favors from some patients.
Diaz — whom some patients referred to as the "Candyman" because of his liberal prescribing habits — is now facing prison time, though how much has yet to be determined.
Noozhawk broke the story of Diaz's arrest in 2012, and prior to the doctor's bust by the DEA, multiple sources including pharmacists, emergency-room doctors, families and law enforcement, insisted that Diaz had consistently overprescribed pain medication.
Emergency room doctors at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital told Noozhawk that the ER was flooded with patients going through withdrawal after Diaz's arrest cut off their supply of drugs in 2012.
At least five family members of Diaz's patients who died of drug overdose are seeking damages in civil court.
Diaz appeared Thursday before U.S. District Court Judge Cormac Carney, who is scheduled to sentence him on June 2.
Diaz will be held in jail until his sentencing, and faces a maximum sentence of 200 years in federal prison and fines of up to $10 million.
Prosecutor Ann Wolf also that restitution may also be a possibility, if any of the victims can produce identifiable losses in their cases.
A call to Diaz's attorney for comment was not returned Thursday afternoon.
"Dr. Diaz was, quite simply, acting as a common drug dealer," U.S. Attorney André Birotte Jr. said in a statement issued Thursday.
"The diversion of powerful painkillers from legitimate medical uses to the hands of drug abusers is a dangerous practice that fuels addiction and causes overdoses. Far too many of the illegal prescription drugs that find their way to street users come from doctors who, like Julio Diaz, choose to betray their Hippocratic oath."
In a plea agreement filed last year, Diaz admitted distributing narcotics such as oxycodone, methadone, hydrocodone, alprazolam, fentanyl and hydromorphone in 2009 and 2010, the office said.
Diaz admitted that he distributed or dispensed the narcotics "while acting and intending to act outside the usual course of professional practice and without a legitimate medical purpose."
While court documents previously filed in this case, as well as civil lawsuits, link Diaz to fatal drug overdoses, he was not specifically charged with causing any deaths, nor did he specifically admit causing any deaths during today's hearing, the office said.