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Irvine physician, pharmacist reach plea agreements in federal illegal prescription case

The Ronald Reagan Federal Building and Courthouse at 411 W. Fourth St. in Santa Ana.
(Meghann Cuniff)

A local physician who allegedly distributed illegal opioids to numerous individuals — including a man convicted in the DUI killing of an off-duty Costa Mesa fire captain in 2018 — and his co-conspirator pharmacist have agreed to plead guilty in federal court.

Dr. Dzung Anh Pham was the owner of Irvine Village Urgent Care between January 2013 and December 2018, when he illegally prescribed 53,693 oxycodone pills, 68,795 hydrocodone pills and 29,286 pills of amphetamine salts to 18 different patients in exchange for cash and insurance payments, prosecutors allege.

In one case that occurred in August 2018, Pham reportedly wrote prescriptions for 75 pills for a woman who was never a patient and had never seen him, issuing the script to her husband.

Knowing pharmacies would not fill prescriptions without a legitimate medical purpose, Pham allegedly directed his patients to Jennifer Thaoyen Nguyen, a then-licensed pharmacist who operated Bristol Pharmacy in Irvine, court records indicate.

Prosecutors maintain that, from May 2017 to December 2018, the pharmacist filled prescriptions written by Pham for 160 oxycodone pills, 1,810 hydrocodone pills and 450 pills of amphetamine salts for eight different patients.

“As a licensed pharmacist, [Nguyen] abused her position of trust in a manner the significantly facilitated the commission of the conspiracy charged in count one,” prosecutors stated in court records.

Both Pham and Nguyen, who each face one felony charge of conspiracy to distribute controlled substances, signed plea agreements indicating they’d admit their guilt if federal prosecutors agreed to dismiss all other charges and consider sentence reductions.

Pham is scheduled to appear in court Friday, while Nguyen is set to go before a judge on Oct. 14, Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office, confirmed Thursday.

Under the provisions of a Sept. 21 plea agreement, and in accordance with federal sentencing guidelines, Pham could face a minimum of 15 to 19 years in prison, a reduction from the maximum 20 -year sentence that could be imposed.

Nguyen faces a minimum sentence of five to six-and-a half years, as prosecutors determined her offenses did not result in death or serious bodily injury.

When Pham was charged in 2018, prosecutors said the physician’s actions had been linked to multiple deaths, including five overdoses, City News Service reported last month.

One of his patients, Mission Viejo resident Stephen Taylor Scarpa, was high on drugs the morning of Nov. 3, 2018, when a van he was driving struck off-duty Costa Mesa fire Capt. Mike Kreza, who’d been riding a bicycle at the time.

City News Service reported authorities had located a prescription bottle inside Scarpa’s vehicle with Pham’s name on it after the collision. Scarpa was sentenced in December to serve 15 years to life in prison for second-degree murder.

Roughly a year after the death of her husband, Shanna Kreza filed a medical malpractice claim against Nguyen and Pham in Orange County Superior Civil Court. That case is still ongoing.

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