Progress continues in federal drug case - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

Progress continues in federal drug case

By Steve Phillips – bio | email

GULFPORT, MS  (WLOX) -  The so-called "pill mill" federal drug case was back in court this past week with the sentencing of Dr. Thomas Trieu and his wife, Dr. Victoria Van.

They operated the Family Medical Center on Division Street in Biloxi.

Back in 2008, the husband-wife doctor team, along with their office manager Richard Trieu and neighboring pharmacist Nick Tran were all named in a 60 count federal indictment which accused them of taking part in a conspiracy to illegally distribute prescription narcotics.

The case dates back to May 21, 2008.

Following a lengthy investigation, federal drug agents raided The Family Medical Center and Tran's Pharmacy next door.

"They are charged with federal violations of title 21 for dispensing schedule 3, 4 and 5 narcotics," said DEA Agent Joel Reece.

The 60 count indictment alleges the husband-wife doctor team and the pharmacist next door were part of a conspiracy to distribute thousands of illicit narcotics prescriptions; drugs like Lortab, Xanax, Soma and cough syrup with codeine.

More than a year after the bust on June 26, 2009, Doctors Trieu and Van enter guilty pleas to lesser charges. He pleads to a felony and two misdemeanors; his wife to a single misdemeanor.

"It takes care of all the interests at stake and we got what we needed to get," said prosecutor John Meynardie.

After Richard Trieu also pleads to a lesser charge, pharmacist Nick Tran is the only holdout.

He maintains his innocence and following a week long trial just last month, he won a partial victory. A federal jury found him "not guilty" on 43 counts, but the jury hung on another 11 counts.

"You know, we're going to work through it. I have a great attorney and great family members," said a happy Nick Tran, outside the courthouse.

Doctors Trieu and Van chose guilty pleas to lesser charges rather than going to trial.

This past Thursday, both expressed sorrow for their mistakes. The husband and wife listened in the courtroom, to the family members of victims who died from various drug-related causes.

"Greed. It's all about greed. You know, it just breaks my heart. Eleven days before her 26th birthday, they took my child," said Kimberly Hanberry, "I called them twice and asked him to stop. And he promised me. And he didn't keep his promise."

The doctors got little mercy in court.

Federal judge Louis Guirola vowed their punishment should put the medical community on notice:  This type of conduct will not be tolerated.

The sentence he imposed exceeded the prosecution recommendations: Eight years in prison for Dr. Trieu. One year for his wife.

"The prosecutor, we had a deal, and he recommended probation. But the judge said he wanted to send a message to everybody and anybody out there. And when a judge says that, you know what's coming," said Defense Attorney Michael Crosby.

"He did what he could do. I wish it was longer, but is it ever long enough for a victim? It's never long enough. He did what he could and I'm pleased with that," said victim's advocate Tammy Creel.

The case continues in June.  That's when Nick Tran will face his second trial on those remaining counts the jury couldn't decide.

Copyright 2010 WLOX. All rights reserved.

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