A woman who helped undercover federal agents infiltrate the drug trafficking organization of a Las Vegas physician was sentenced to a brief stint in prison Wednesday.
Millicent Epino, 39, a former health care marketing assistant and a mother of three children, was ordered to spend six months behind bars and six months of home confinement on a charge of conspiracy to distribute the painkiller oxycodone. She pleaded guilty in September.
Epino was one of seven people charged in an investigation into the oxycodone trafficking operations of pain management specialist, Dr. Victor Bruce, that began in June 2012.
Bruce, 49, pleaded guilty in the high-profile investigation, led by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, and was sentenced to 46 months in federal prison in October 2014.
Epino sobbed repeatedly in court Wednesday as Senior U.S. District Judge Kent Dawson ordered her to spend time in prison. She and her lawyer, Michael Miceli, sought probation because of her extensive cooperation in the case.
Epino risked her safety by bringing an undercover agent into Bruce’s organization and secretly recording face-to-face conversations with a key member of the group during her 18 months of cooperation, Micelli said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Crane Pomerantz had recommended a reduced sentence of 12 to 21 months in prison, saying her “remarkable” assistance led to the charges against all of her co-defendants.
Dawson reduced the sentence further to the one year of split time. He said he opted against giving her probation because he was concerned that Epino had sold more than 1,000 oxycodone pills to undercover agents before she decided to cooperate.
He told Epino she saved herself roughly two years in prison by assisting agents, and he gave her until June 15 to surrender so she could attend the graduation of one of her children.
Before Bruce was sent to prison, the drug investigation took a bizarre turn after the man who helped Bruce distribute the drugs on the street, Robert Wolfe, secretly began cooperating with Las Vegas police against his lawyer in an alleged scheme to help Wolfe flee the country.
Federal prosecutors learned about the police investigation of the lawyer, Ben Nadig, in court when they sought to keep Wolfe behind bars for allegedly trying to obtain a passport to flee to Panama.
Wolfe, 70, and his new lawyer, Louis Schneider, contended Wolfe had no intention of fleeing the country and was merely cooperating with police investigating Nadig’s conduct in the suspected passport scheme.
Eventually, FBI agents and federal prosecutors joined the investigation, which after nearly 18 months has not resulted in any charges. Nadig’s lawyers have strongly denied wrongdoing on his behalf.
In March Wolfe secretly pleaded guilty to an undisclosed drug charge, but his sentencing has been put off as authorities ponder whether to charge Nadig.
Wolfe bragged to an undercover agent that he once had as many as 3,000 people going to Bruce’s office to obtain oxycodone prescriptions, according to prosecutors.
Bruce created “ghost files” of patients, prescribed oxycodone under the phony names and sold the prescriptions to Wolfe, prosecutors alleged.
Nevada U.S. Attorney Daniel Bogden has made a priority of investigating doctors and other medical professionals who unlawfully traffic in prescription painkillers. A half-dozen doctors have been charged over the past several years, Bogden has said.
Contact Jeff German at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-380-8135. Find him on Twitter: @JGermanRJ