Las Vegas physician Victor Bruce pleaded guilty Tuesday in an ongoing federal investigation into the unlawful trafficking of the prescription painkiller oxycodone.
U.S. District Judge Andrew Gordon set an Oct. 9 sentencing for Bruce, 49, on one felony count of conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance. He faces substantial prison time.
“This was simply a money making sham, and none of the prescriptions were being issued for a legitimate medical purpose or in the usual course of professional practice,” Nevada U.S. Attorney Daniel Bogden said afterward in a statement. “We will continue to identify and prosecute these bad doctors who are using their medical licenses to illegally deal drugs.”
Bruce’s defense attorney Richard Schonfeld said outside the courtroom that Bruce is remorseful for his actions.
“Dr. Bruce has accepted responsibility for a terrible mistake that he made,” Schonfeld said.
Bruce’s plea agreement, however, does not call for him to cooperate with federal prosecutors in the drug trafficking investigation, Schonfeld said.
Two other physicians who have been prescribing large amounts of oxycodone, a known drug trafficker and a pharmacy alleged to have filled phony prescriptions are among those targeted in the investigation, court documents show.
Earlier this month, Bogden told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that a total of four doctors are under investigation for prescription crimes in the Las Vegas area.
Bruce, who considers himself a specialist in pain management, was indicted by a federal grand jury on Dec. 11. He is free on his own recognizance.
While under indictment, he has continued to run his Swan Lake Medical Center on Hualapai Way but has been barred from prescribing pain medication.
In court Tuesday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Crane Pomerantz told Gordon that Bruce might have prescribed painkillers nine times since Dec. 19 and prosecutors were seeking records to confirm it.
Schonfeld said Bruce denies the allegations.
But if the records show the prescriptions were made by Bruce, prosecutors would seek to either modify or revoke the terms of his release, Pomerantz said.
Attorney John Hunt, who is representing Bruce in disciplinary proceedings before the Nevada Board of Medical Examiners, said Bruce is hoping to keep his medical practice open until his sentencing.
Hunt said he’s also attempting to work out a deal with the Board of Medical Examiners that would protect the public and allow Bruce to resume practicing medicine after he gets out of prison.
Bruce’s indictment was part of an investigation that focused on alleged trafficking of oxycodone in Nevada and Kentucky by a man identified in court documents as Robert Wolfe, who was known by the nickname “old man.”
Bruce on Tuesday admitted that he unlawfully provided Wolfe with oxycodone prescriptions.
Wolfe was ordered detained earlier this month on allegations he violated the terms of his release, and is to appear before a federal magistrate judge on Thursday for further sanctions.
Wolfe and five others authorities tied to his drug organization were charged in a criminal complaint in September, but so far none of the defendants have been publicly indicted in the case.
Bruce’s guilty plea follows the sentencing of one of his employees, Jade Lepoma, who was sentenced to three years probation with one year of home confinement.
Lepoma pleaded guilty in January to one count of conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance and agreed to cooperate against Bruce.
In her agreement, Lepoma admitted that she helped Wolfe obtain oxycodone prescriptions from Bruce so Wolfe could sell the drugs at a profit on the street.
Lepoma said she and other Bruce staffers shared in roughly $1,200 a week from Wolfe outside their regular salaries for their assistance.
Federal prosecutors have alleged that Bruce created “ghost files” of patients, prescribed oxycodone under the phony names and sold the prescriptions to Wolfe.
Contact Jeff German at email@example.com or 702-380-8135. Find him on Twitter: @JGermanRJ.