Julio Diaz

Family physician Julio Diaz is led in handcuffs from his Santa Barbara office after a 2011 search by federal agents. (Liz O. Baylen / Los Angeles Times / January 4, 2011)

A Santa Barbara doctor accused of illegally prescribing painkillers and other potent narcotics to patients who had no legitimate medical need pleaded guilty Thursday to federal drug dealing charges.

Julio Diaz, 65, had been awaiting trial when he pleaded guilty to 11 counts of drug dealing in U.S. District Court in Santa Ana.

Diaz was taken into custody after entering the plea, said Asst. U.S. Atty. Ann Luotto Wolf. He is scheduled to be sentenced in June. The doctor’s attorney, Michael Guisti, declined comment.

Fellow doctors and the family members of some of his patients had been complaining about Diaz to the state medical board for years prior to his arrest. A  doctor at a local hospital determined that Diaz’s patients were seen in the emergency room for drug intoxication on 410 occasions over two years, court records show.

Some patients referred to Diaz as “the candy man,” because he was seen as an easy source of drugs, according to court records.

At least 17 of Diaz’s patients died of overdoses or related causes, according to a Times examination of coroner’s reports. Prosecutors linked the doctor to a dozen patient deaths in a search warrant affidavit filed when they raided his office two years ago, but the counts filed against him relate only to drug dealing.

Some patient deaths are likely to be brought up during an evidentiary hearing before sentencing, Wolf said.

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