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Santa Barbara Doctor Found Guilty on 79 Counts of Overprescribing

A former doctor who worked out of a Milpas Street office before being arrested for overprescribing has been found guilty on 79 counts and will likely spend the rest of his life in prison, according to a prosecutor with the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Julio Diaz was arrested by federal agents on Jan. 4, 2012 after an affidavit accused Diaz of prescribing “profound” doses of drugs, including strong painkillers such as OxyContin, fentanyl and Dilaudid to patients.

The case was drawn out after Diaz pleaded guilty in January 2014 to federal charges of overprescribing painkillers that led to 11 patient deaths, but U.S. District Court Judge Cormac Carney allowed him to later withdraw the guilty plea, ruling that Diaz had not been properly advised by his attorney at the time.

The two-and-a-half week trial began Aug. 11 in U.S. District Court in Santa Ana, and the jury began deliberating late Wednesday afternoon.

It returned the verdict on Friday afternoon and found Diaz guilty of all 79 counts he was facing.

Diaz's attorney, Kate Corrigan, said that her client plans to appeal.

The prosecution brought forward a range of witnesses to testify, including doctors from Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, medical experts, several pharmacists, former patients and family members of those patients. 

“There was a quite a lot of very painful testimony,” said prosecutor Ann Wolf of the U.S. Attorney's Office.  

“It was a difficult case for everyone.”

Each of the counts Diaz faced relates to one prescription written, and the counts involved nine different patients of Diaz.

The prosecution put forward a case that had financial motive as a dominant theme for why Diaz began to prescribe such large amounts of powerful drugs to people trapped in addiction, and also painted the former doctor as someone who felt untouchable by the law.

The prosecution looked at 50,000 prescriptions written by Diaz during the scope of his practice, but primarily focused on a small snapshot of those, which were given out when Diaz expanded to include “pain management” as part of his practice from 2007 to 2011.

The patients in the lawsuit had been prescribed drugs like oxycodone, hydrocodone, alprazolam and fentanyl, among others.

Wolf said she feels the case’s outcome is a warning to doctors who choose to take advantage of vulnerable people.

“Any medical provider that turns people into addicts and takes advantage of that will be held accountable,” she said.

“The fact that someone is wearing a white coat doesn’t give them carte blanche to deal drugs. (Diaz )was a drug dealer.”

Anyone who is a legitimate doctor and is caring properly for their patients has nothing to fear, Wolf said, adding that she feels people like Diaz, seeking to turn a profit off their patients' addictions are rare.

Diaz will be sentenced on Dec. 14, and though Wolf has not done the calculation of prison time for each count, the prison time will be substantial.

“I anticipate he will spend the rest of his life in prison,” she said. 

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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