In a plea agreement filed this morning, a Glendale doctor has agreed to plead guilty to a federal drug trafficking charge for illegally distributing hydrocodone, a powerful painkiller best known by the brand names Vicodin and Norco.
Dr. Manasseh Nwaigwe, 72, who resides in Glendale and operated a medical office in Boyle Heights, agreed to plead guilty to one count of illegal distribution of hydrocodone. As part of the agreement with the government, Nwaigwe will forfeit to the government more than $97,000 in cash that Nwaigwe admits were proceeds derived from his illegal prescriptions.
In the plea agreement, Nwaigwe admits that, on five occasions in May and July 2015, he wrote prescriptions for drugs to undercover law enforcement officers in exchange for cash.
Nwaigwe prescribed the drugs hydrocodone, clonazepam (commonly known by the brand name Klonopin), and promethazine with codeine (a narcotic cough syrup known on the streets as “purple drank” or “sizzurp”) to undercover agents who “did not in fact have a medical need for those prescriptions.” In exchange, Nwaigwe received $90 cash for each prescription.
“The issuance of prescriptions without a legitimate medical purpose fuels the prescription drug abuse epidemic and the related problem of heroin use across the United States,” said United States Attorney Eileen M. Decker. “Doctors who choose illegal profits instead of dispensing sound medical care are no better than street corner drug dealers.”
“Prescription drug abuse continues to plague our communities – it’s a nationwide epidemic and the effects have taken a horrific toll on public health and safety across the U.S.,” said John S. Comer, Special Agent in Charge of DEA’s Los Angeles Field Division. “The DEA remains committed to identifying and investigating doctors prescribing potentially lethal substances outside the scope of legitimate medical practice.”
Under the terms plea agreement, Nwagiwe will cooperate with the Medical Board of California by surrendering his medical license, which will effectively resolve a pending action filed by the Medical Board against Nwaigwe earlier this year. On March 8, the Medical Board filed an accusation against Nwaigwe that alleged sexual misconduct, prescribing without an appropriate exam and gross negligence.
Under the plea agreement, Nwaigwe also will surrender his DEA registration, which is the federal license that all physicians must have to prescribe controlled substances.
Nwaigwe is expected to appear in United States District Court in Los Angeles on June 7 for an arraignment, at which point a hearing to enter his guilty plea will be scheduled.
The drug distribution charge against Nwagiwe carries a statutory maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison.
The investigation into Nwaigwe was conducted by the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Medical Board of California, the Los Angeles Police Department, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, the Torrance Police Department, and the Redondo Beach Police Department.