Anaheim man, formerly a Long Beach physician assistant, gets 18 months for illegal distribution of narcotics

LOS ANGELES — A former Long Beach physician assistant was sentenced Wednesday to 18 months behind bars and a year of home confinement for diverting dangerous narcotics to the black market.

Gabriel Hernandez, 59, was also ordered by U.S. District Judge Christine Snyder to pay a $13,000 fine, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Hernandez, who worked at a Long Beach pain management clinic known as Vortex Wellness & Aesthetics, pleaded guilty last year to a federal charge of distributing oxycodone without a legitimate medical purpose.

The Anaheim man was arrested in February 2019 as part of an investigation codenamed Hypocritical Oath, a yearlong U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration-led probe targeting doctors, physician assistants, nurse practitioners and clinic operators suspected of illegally providing controlled substances to so-called patients and black market customers in violation of their oaths to do no harm.

Over a two-year period that ended in November 2018, Hernandez prescribed nearly 6,000 controlled substances — more than half of which were for maximum-strength oxycodone, which means he was responsible for 446,000 oxycodone pills being dispensed.

Hernandez often wrote prescriptions for drug cocktails known on the street as the holy trinity — a narcotic, tranquilizer and/or muscle relaxant — which are sought by drug addicts and are particularly dangerous because of the threat of fatal overdose.

In 2017, according to records maintained by the state of California, Hernandez wrote a prescription for the three drugs to a 41-year-old man who died a week later from the combined effects of alcohol and two of the prescribed drugs, the criminal complaint filed in Los Angeles federal court states.

A San Diego pharmacist contacted investigators in late 2018 about suspicious and identical prescriptions Hernandez wrote to three people who appeared to be living in the same house more than a hundred miles away from the Vortex clinic.

A medical expert who reviewed data on Hernandez’s prescription history and tapes of two office visits by a law enforcement source concluded that Hernandez’s actions were “much closer to that of an illegal drug dealer than that of a physician, and the patient visits are a sham,” court papers show.

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