RENO — The investigation into a prescription drug-trafficking ring in Reno is the state’s most extensive in the five years since U.S. Attorney Daniel Bogden said his office and area law officers have stepped up efforts to combat the growth of “dirty doctors and illicit pill mills” throughout Nevada.
Over the last 18 months, four Las Vegas doctors have been convicted and sentenced to multiple years in prison for illegally distributing painkillers, including one who sold pills to an undercover U.S. drug agent in a hospital parking lot and another who created fictitious patients in phony medical records to cover his tracks.
“Our federal and local law enforcement partners are working tirelessly to shut down these dangerous pill mills and pharmacist co-conspirators,” Bogden said.
Dr. Robert Rand, the doctor at the center of the Reno case, entered not guilty pleas Thursday in U.S. District Court in Reno to charges accusing him of writing painkiller prescriptions to people who didn’t need them, including one who died from an overdose.
U.S. Magistrate Valerie Cooke ordered him to remain in jail without bond.
Cooke says the fact that Rand could spend decades in prison if convicted makes him a serious flight risk. She doesn’t believe any conditions could be placed on his release to ensure he shows up in court.
Eight others also have been charged with drug-related charges, including the manager of a Reno car dealership where the government says Richard West II and other employees distributed the drugs. They’ve all pleaded not guilty.
A trial for Rand and the others is scheduled July 19.
Rand’s lawyer John Arrascada told the Reno Gazette-Journal his office has been “inundated” by phone calls from medical professionals, patients, family members and friends of Rand who maintain the married father of a 15-month-old girl is neither a flight risk nor a threat to the community. Among those who wrote letters on behalf of Rand were former Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons and former Reno Police Chief Jim Weston.
Rand has been in custody since he was arrested in San Francisco on April 29. He being held without bail Wednesday in the Washoe County jail in Reno.
Although the Reno case is the highest profile, Bogden said it’s only the latest in what has become a “major, growing problem.”
“Opioid trafficking and abuse has skyrocketed over the last decade,” said Bogden, who appeared at a news conference last week with FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration agents.
Over the past year, pharmaceuticals accounted for the largest number of new drug users in the nation — “more than any other drug, including marijuana,” he said.
Overdose deaths from opioids and heroin have nearly quadrupled since 1999, Bogden said. In Clark County, pharmaceutical deaths now outnumber deaths from methamphetamine, heroin and cocaine combined, he said.
Since January 2010, Bogden said his office has prosecuted more than 150 people — including seven doctors and a pharmacist — for unlawfully distributing highly addictive prescription painkillers. Among them were two Las Vegas doctors sentenced to at least two years in prison in December, including Dr. Sebastian Paulin, who also was ordered to forfeit $1.3 million in criminal proceeds.
Dr. Victor Bruce of Las Vegas was sentenced to nearly four years in prison in October 2014 for writing oxycodone prescriptions for people he “did not see or treat” and “went so far as to create ‘dummy’ medical records for those fictitious persons to make it appear as if a legitimate patient encounter had taken place,” Bogden said.
A month earlier, Dr. Vinay Bararia was sentenced to more than three years for unlawfully selling thousands of hydrocodone and oxycodone pills, including a batch to an undercover DEA agent outside the Las Vegas hospital where he practiced medicine.