Seahawks' Ellison's arrest sparks DEA look at Chargers

Published on July 15, 2010 by     Seahawk Fanatic

Safety Kevin Ellison is a member of the Seattle Seahawks now, a second-year safety who played for Pete Carroll at USC and started nine games for the San Diego Chargers last season.

He was waived after he was arrested in Southern California, police officers alleging he was found with 100 Vicodin pills without a prescription. He was scheduled to be arraigned last week, but that was continued until this week.

Federal drug enforcement agents searched the offices of Chargers team doctor David Chao two weeks ago because they had learned he apparently had written at least 108 drug prescriptions to himself since June 10, 2008, which would violate controlled substance regulations, according to recently unsealed search warrant affidavits.

The Drug Enforcement Administration also searched the offices of Padres doctors because of similar prescription writing irregularities.

Some documents were seized at pharmacies where Chao and another Chargers doctor, Calvin Wong, had the prescriptions filled. Documents also were seized at the La Jolla office of Padres doctor Gaston Molina.

DEA spokeswoman Amy Roderick said that “based on what we have reviewed, we have no reason to believe that he (Chao) was using the medication himself.”

“The data and the information retrieved during the warrants are being processed and reviewed,” Roderick said. “The investigation is considered ongoing.”

Chao’s attorney, Jim Godes, said he doesn’t think criminal action is likely against his client. A spokesman for the Padres doctors said they “are cooperating fully with the DEA in this investigation and have prescribed all medications for appropriate medical reasons.”

The Chargers and Padres declined comment.

The DEA searched the offices of Chargers and Padres team doctors on June 29 after serving 10 administrative inspection warrants. The DEA asked a magistrate judge to grant the warrants after finding irregularities in how some team doctors issued prescriptions. Padres team doctor Harry Albers also apparently wrote six prescriptions to himself, according to the affidavit. Molina wrote six prescriptions for fellow Padres doctor Robert Kakehashi, which made the prescriptions “suspicious,” the affidavit said.

Doctors who write prescription to themselves sometimes do it fill office supplies, even though it is against the law, said Glen Crick, a Chicago attorney who has represented medical practitioners.

“It happens, but it is a violation,” said Crick, who is not involved in the case. “If they were not self-medicating, it would be unusual if there would be any criminal charges. If somebody did it 108 times, I’m surprised DEA didn’t realize it before. Generally, a local pharmacist will see the prescriptions and say this is wrong.”

If the DEA found violations, Crick said an outcome of the case could be that the doctors will have to make a case to government about why they should be allowed to continue to dispense prescription drugs. “A DEA registration (to dispense controlled substances) is not a right,” Crick said. “It’s a privilege granted by the federal government.”

The case’s origins can be traced to the arrest in May of former Chargers safety Kevin Ellison, who had been charged with illegally possessed 100 Vicodin painkiller pills when he was stopped for speeding in Redondo Beach. The Chargers have said the Vicodin was not provided by the team or its doctors.

“Based on this arrest and other recent media coverage of another NFL team dealing with suspected controlled substance violations (the New Orleans Saints),” the DEA’s San Diego office conducted a review of prescription drug records through the DEA’s automated records system and the state controlled substance monitoring program, according to the affidavit by DEA investigator Brenda Catano.

The idea was “to identify controlled substances purchases and prescription activity by physicians associated with San Diego’s professional sports teams.”

The review found that from June 10, 2008 to June 10, 2010, one of Chao’s registration numbers had 65 controlled substance prescriptions issued in the patient name “David J. Chao M.D.” Another registration number issued to Chao had 43 in the same patient name.

“Because Dr. Chao is not a patient, my training and experience lead me to suspect that David J. Chao, M.D., has possibly self-prescribed or possibly used prescriptions to obtain controlled substances for office dispensing to patients, violating at least one of the these regulations which, as a registrant, he is required to obey,” the affidavit said.

The affidavit also said Chao had written several other prescriptions to patients named “Healthsouth Ctr,” “Medical Cent OASIS” and other business names. Because these are business names and not patients, these prescriptions are “suspicious and unlawful,” the affidavit said. In the case of Padres doctor Molina, the affidavit said significant quantities were filled in Kakehashi’s name on March 9 in Encinitas and March 11 in San Antonio. The March 9 prescription would provide a 15- to 30-day supply, the March 11 order would provide 67 to 135 days.

Based on this information, a magistrate judge signed the warrants.

It’s not the first time Chao has been scrutinized for his handling of prescription drugs.

In 2002, Chao was issued a $1,000 citation by the state medical board for failure to maintain adequate and accurate medical records. The charge stemmed from allegations Chao had unlawfully written narcotics prescriptions for former Chargers doctor Gary Losse, whose alleged addiction to such narcotics led to his being dropped by the Chargers in 1998, according to court records.

Chao, an orthopedic surgeon, has operated on many pro athletes, including cyclist Floyd Landis and wrestler Rey Mysterio. As Chargers doctor, he cares for injured players.

He has been dogged by other legal problems in recent years, having been sued 20 times since 1998 in San Diego Superior Court for medical malpractice, negligence, personal injury or fraud. At least five of those suits have been settled with undisclosed payouts to plaintiffs. Such settlements are not considered admissions of liability. In 2002, Abby Joyce Rueckert was awarded a $460,000 verdict by a jury after she sued Chao for severing an artery during surgery. Chao denied the accusations in court records.

Last year, the state medical board also filed a complaint against Chao, accusing him of abusing alcohol and unprofessional conduct stemming from two alcohol-related incidents in 2006 and 1995.

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