A former Santa Ana-based psychiatrist was sentenced Monday to 57 months in federal prison for his part in a scheme to distribute prescriptions for opioids and other drugs for non-medical reasons.
Robert Tinoco Perez, who surrendered his medical license last month, pleaded guilty in February to a count of conspiracy to distribute controlled substances.
Perez told U.S. District Judge Andrew Guilford he was "disappointed and embarrassed" by his behavior.
"I could have hurt or killed someone," he said.
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Perez admitted a methamphetamine habit impaired his judgment as he fell into the scheme with co-defendant William Jason Plumley, 41, who was sentenced in December to 70 months in prison. Perez operated the scheme with Plumley from about 2017 through June 2018. He issued prescriptions for oxycodone, hydrocodone and amphetamine salts to Plumley and others for recreational purposes.
Perez said he was "manipulated" into doling out prescriptions to be sold by dealers.
"It was all my fault," he said.
Perez said he has been taking college courses while in custody and considers his legal troubles a "painful personal life lesson."
Guilford said he appreciated letters of support sent by Perez's relatives and friends and credited him for his conduct while in jail. But the judge said he wished the defendant had reflected more on the people who consumed the drugs he was prescribing at a time when opioid addiction is considered at a crisis level.
"Have you thought in jail how many people did you hurt with this?" Guilford asked.
The judge recommended incarcerating Perez in a local prison that offers a drug-treatment program that could reduce his sentence.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Rosalind Wang said Perez's crimes were "comparable to street-level dealers," because, "He was selling drugs in exchange for cash."
When investigators executed a search warrant of his home they found $100,000 in cash, Wang said. Perez also had the "street-level brokers" fill out paperwork in the name of fake patients to make the prescriptions look more legitimate, Wang said.
"He didn't know or didn't seem to care where these drugs ended up," Wang said. "The difference (from standard drug dealers) is he was at the top of the supply chain."
Perez also took steps to create fake patient files to legitimize the drug deals, Wang said. He also would "lie" to pharmacists when they would call to verify information on a prescription, she added.
"He was highly aware of his unlawful actions and was taking steps to avoid getting caught," Wang said.
During the sentencing hearing, Perez cited his mother's death eight years ago, his sister's breast-cancer diagnosis, a split with the mother of his child and a bad real-estate deal that almost landed him in bankruptcy as contributing to his troubles.
Despite treatment in psychotherapy in November 2016, Perez said he began experiencing "profound loneliness," and "mistook" the intentions of a "friendship with a gang member."