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Glendale doctor admits to illegally selling painkiller prescriptions, faces 20 years in prison

A 72-year-old Glendale doctor who illegally sold prescriptions for an addictive painkiller to undercover investigators agreed to plead guilty to a federal drug-trafficking charge, federal officials said Wednesday.

Manasseh Nwaigwe, who operated a medical office in Boyle Heights, faces 20 years in federal prison after he admitted in court records to illegally distributing hydrocodone, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office.

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He agreed to give up his medical license and turn over to the government $97,437 in cash he earned selling illegal prescriptions, federal court records show.

Last May, Nwaigwe sold prescriptions for 90 pills of hydrocodone, 90 pills of clonazepam and promethazine with codeine — a narcotic cough syrup used to make what’s known on the streets as “purple drank” or “sizzurp” — to two undercover officers, who each paid him $90, court records state.

Neither officer had a medical need for the drugs.

Two months later, the officers returned with a third undercover investigator. Each of them handed over $90 for the same prescriptions, according to court records.

According to state medical board records, Nwaigwe failed to ask questions about their medical histories or examine them beyond listening to their chests and backs.

“Doctors who choose illegal profits instead of dispensing sound medical care are no better than street-corner drug dealers,” U.S. Attorney Eileen M. Decker said in a prepared statement.

In February, the state medical board suspended Nwaigwe’s medical license after he was accused of sexually assaulting a patient and overprescribing the “dangerous” drugs to 15 patients, including the undercover officers.

Last year, a patient visited Nwaigwe twice, once for back pain and a second time for anxiety. During the second visit last July, Nwaigwe allegedly reached into her sweatpants and touched her inappropriately without explaining why, according to board records.

He subsequently asked her on a date and reportedly prescribed her anxiety, pain, blood pressure and cough medications, though she never complained of a cough or, on that visit, pain.

Records show that he later told Los Angeles police that he was checking for a tumor “or anything of that nature.”

Prosecutors declined to file criminal charges in the sexual assault case due to insufficient evidence, according to the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office.

But before those allegations surfaced, the Drug Enforcement Agency had already started investigating Nwaigwe’s prescribing practices.

Nwaigwe is due in court next month.

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Alene Tchekmedyian, alene.tchekmedyian@latimes.com

Twitter: @atchek

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