Drug-dealing doctor sentenced to 7 years in prison
A federal judge on Wednesday sentenced a drug-dealing doctor who was once California’s top prescriber of narcotic painkillers and other commonly abused drugs to seven years in federal prison.
U.S. District Judge S. James Otero said he was being somewhat lenient on Nazar Al Bussam, 72, because he did not want the physician to die in prison.
During the hearing, Otero said he had read what he characterized as “very troubling” disclosures in a Los Angeles Times report that linked Al Bussam to the deaths of three patients to whom he had prescribed drugs and two other people who had drugs prescribed by him in their possession.
Authorities did not discover those deaths during their three-year probe of Al Bussam, who they said generated nearly $2 million in cash while recklessly prescribing addictive narcotics to drug addicts and dealers.
Prosecutors brought The Times article to the judge’s attention, saying they thought Otero should be aware of it, but did not seek to enter it as evidence or to postpone sentencing to conduct further investigation.
Otero, after summarizing the report aloud in court, said it would be improper for him to consider the article for a number of reasons, including that it contained so-called hearsay statements by people who had not testified in court.
Prosecutors depicted Al Bussam as a greed-driven opportunist who exploited his patients’ addictions. Not only did he give patients the drugs they asked for, he went so far as suggesting additional addictive drugs to undercover DEA agents posing as patients who said nothing to suggest they needed them, according to prosecutors. He at times wrote prescriptions for such quantities and combinations of pills that they were potentially lethal even if taken as directed, a prosecution medical expert was set to testify.
Al Bussam’s attorney, Benjamin Gluck, acknowledged that his client broke the law, but said he had also practiced good medicine over the course of his decades-long career. He said the doctor had gone out of his way to help patients who didn’t have insurance and couldn’t afford care.
Al Bussam entered a conditional guilty plea to federal drug-trafficking charges in July after a judge barred a defense expert from testifying that it was technically legal for Al Bussam to prescribe to addicts the very drugs they were abusing, so long as it was being done to mitigate pain, even the pain of withdrawal.
Now that he has been sentenced, Al Bussam may appeal the judge's ruling. If he prevails, his guilty plea can be withdrawn.
As part of the plea, Al Bussam has agreed to forfeit more than $450,000 in “proceeds derived from his illegal activity.” In addition, Otero ordered him to pay a fine of $125,000.
“Dr. Al Bussam operated what was essentially a wholesale narcotics store hidden under the cloak of a medical clinic,” U.S. Atty. Andre Birotte Jr. said in a prepared statement. “Al Bussam knowingly gave narcotics to drug addicts and sold to street-level dealers who are spreading diverted pharmaceuticals -- and the pain of drug dependency -- across this country.”
-- Scott Glover and Lisa Girion
Photo: Nazar Al Bussam Credit: KTLA-TV Channel 5