A Dillon doctor and at least one other local resident were indicted late last month on charges stemming from an alleged prescription drug distribution scheme that resulted in the death of at least one person, according to a statement from the Colorado District of the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Dr. Joseph Ferrara, an obstetrician and gynecologist who had medical practices in Wheat Ridge and Summit County, is facing 45 felony counts including charges of distribution of controlled substances resulting in death, money laundering and bankruptcy fraud after federal authorities say he, with the help of a group of co-conspirators, prescribed and sold a variety of medications to patients in quantities large enough to enable abuse and addiction to the drugs.
Five others, including local resident Keith Schwartz — all of whom were employees of Ferrara’s medical practice and allegedly aware of the illegal activity — were also indicted on federal charges, according to the statement.
Ferrara and Schwartz were arrested in Summit County and made their initial court appearance in Denver May 23. The other defendants were taken into custody in Denver the same day.
Ferrara, 67, has been released from jail on a $100,000 property bond. A detention hearing is slated for today to determine whether Keith Schwartz will be held in custody. The other defendants were all released on personal recognizance bonds.
Multiple attempts to contact Ferrara by phone and in person were unsuccessful. The Summit Daily was also unable to reach Schwartz by phone for comment Monday.
At least one patient to whom Ferrara prescribed drugs died as a result, according to the statement.
“The illegal distribution of prescription narcotics is becoming an epidemic,” U.S. Attorney John Walsh stated in the release on the indictment. “Doctors who are improperly prescribing medication outside the scope of their practice for profit should be put on notice that they will face criminal penalties.”
The indictment alleges Ferrara prescribed oxycodone, morphine, methadone, oxymorphone, hydromorphone, hydrocodone, amphetamines, carisoprodol, alprazolam, clonazepam, lorazepam, triazolam and zolpidem tartrate to patients without determining a medical need. He and his cohorts are accused of working independently to collect payment for the drugs in cash or by check or credit cards, but not through insurance. The indictment charges they used the money to make personal purchases, including, in Ferrara’s case, a 2010 Honda Crosstour.
The scheme was discovered after retail pharmaceutical companies noticed he was dispensing high quantities and suspicious combinations of controlled substances and notified the Drug Enforcement Administration. A federal investigation into his prescribing practices began in May of 2011.
“While the vast majority of doctors offer healing and compassionate care to their patients, there remain some who violate their oath and the law,” DEA special agent in charge Barbra Roach stated in the release. “DEA and our law enforcement partners will continue to identify, investigate and prosecute doctors and other medical professionals who abuse their trust and power by engaging in criminal drug trafficking of prescription drugs.”
Ferrara is also accused of participating in a scheme to defraud the bankruptcy court as well as his creditors by taking steps to conceal “considerable assets” in his possession during bankruptcy proceedings, according to the U.S. Attorney’s statement.
The indictment includes an asset forfeiture allegation requiring Ferrara to turn over all proceeds from his illegal activity as well as any property used to commit the crime.
His arrest and that of the other defendants were part of an ongoing federal law enforcement focus on targeting “pill mills” in Colorado, according to the statement.
A grand jury indictment is only the first step in the prosecution process, giving law enforcement license to make arrests. Ferrara and the other defendants are presumed innocent unless found guilty by a traditional jury after a trial.
If convicted of all the charges against him, Ferrara could be facing life in prison, according to the release.