Lake Milton doctor fights life sentence recommendation in pill mill case
A Valley doctor is fighting recommendations to have a federal judge send the physician to prison for life when he is sentenced this week for what prosecutors characterize as “pouring opioids into the small town of Lake Milton and surrounding areas.
The case involves Dr.Martin Escobar, who is asking U.S. District Judge Donald Nugent to allow him to withdraw his plea to 54 counts of distribution of controlled substances and 31 counts of health care fraud.
Just two days before Escobar’s scheduled sentencing date, the U.S. Attorney filed a sentencing recommendation noting that since Escobar now says he wants to withdraw his guilty plea, a government agreement not to recommend sentencing guidelines for the doctor is now null and void.
The U.S. Attorney’s recommendation notes that Escobar’s illegal drug prescriptions had deadly results in some cases.
“His prescribing directly killed at least two patients and contributed to the deaths of many more,” according to the filing from Assistant U.S. Attorney Elliot Morrison.
The government says Escobar not only prescribed excessive doses of drugs, but he also disregarded signs of addiction and drug abuse by submitting claims for urine drug screens conducted in his own lab, which he allegedly ignored.
"Through this pattern of illegal prescribing, Defendant (Escobar) kept a steady stream of patients coming in the door,” according to the government’s sentencing recommendation.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Elliot, in part of the document, compared Escobar to a “common drug dealer.”
“Defendant (Escobar) profited off of not only feeding addiction, as common drug dealers do, but off of creating and growing his patients’ addictions, and shielding addiction from forces that might—against the odds—defeat it. While many of his patients sought out opioids, he prescribed them indiscriminately. He escalated doses, growing his patients’ dependence on drugs, and therefore on him. He convinced people who wanted to reduce their doses or enter addiction therapy not to do it. In doing so, he killed people directly, and the government will address at sentencing the loss experienced by the families of the patients' Defendant has admitted to killing. He also killed people indirectly, as they turned to street drugs to feed the addiction his pills created. And he endangered the lives of countless more who placed their lives in his hands.” … “By pouring opioids and other controlled substances into the small town of Lake Milton and the surrounding area, Defendant was printing money.”
Dr. Escobar’s attorney also filed a sentencing recommendation on Monday saying the Court should not even conduct a sentencing hearing.
Noting that Escobar has asked to withdraw his guilty pleas and allow him to go on trial, the defense attorney in the alternative asks Judge Nugent to hand down a sentence at the low end of federal guidelines as outlined in the plea agreement.
Escobar his hanging his change of heart on a recent United States Supreme Court decision in the case of Ruan v. United States which, according to Escobar’s attorney, held the government must prove an additional element when the government charges a doctor with violating the Controlled Substances Act.
Escobar’s attorney Robert Glickman says the Ruan ruling substantially changes the legal landscape of his client’s case.
Before Ruan, the law required the government to prove only that the doctor objectively prescribed the drug without a legitimate medical purpose and outside the course of professional practice. Attorney Glickman says Ruan makes clear that the Government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant knew that he or she was acting in an unauthorized manner, or intended to do so.
As of early Tuesday, Judge Nugent had not ruled on Escobar’s request to withdraw his guilty plea.
Sentencing is set for Thursday, August 4, at 9 a.m. in U.S. District Court.