GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Biloxi pharmacist Nick Tran will spend the next 10 years in federal prison. That's the sentence he received Thursday morning in a federal courtroom in downtown Gulfport.
He was convicted of drug related charges in the so-called "pill mill" case that involved the distribution of illegal prescription narcotics.
Two doctors who ran the Family Medical Clinic next door to Tran's pharmacy on Division Street pleaded guilty earlier and were also sentenced to prison time. But Tran has maintained his innocence throughout.
Nick Tran was stone faced throughout the hearing. He was in handcuffs, wearing a Pearl River County jail outfit at the hearing. He showed no emotion when he was sentenced and no emotion when the family member of a victim told Tran, "You're the worst kind of criminal. One with no conscience."
Tran went through two federal trials. A jury in the first trial found him not guilty on most counts and was hung on the rest. But a second jury in the re-trial found Tran guilty of participating in a drug conspiracy that involved hundreds of narcotics prescriptions written by doctors at Family Medical Clinic and then filled at Tran's Pharmacy next door.
"We're going to push forward with our appeal and I'm going to advocate Mr. Tran's rights as if he were my own brother and we're just going to move forward," said defense attorney David Morrison.
Morrison was asked if Tran still maintains his innocence.
"He does. It's a constitutional right in this country and Mr. Tran has steadfastly, from the beginning, said that he was innocent and we've maintained that."
"Justice was served once again," said Tammy Creel, outside the courthouse just minutes after the sentence was imposed.
She has a loved one who died of drug-related causes and spoke at the sentencing hearing.
She criticized Tran for his "smug" attitude and lack of remorse. She told the defendant, "You handed out narcotics like Halloween candy."
"He's so arrogant, just that he wasn't guilty. I've worked in a pharmacy setting. I know the protocols. And he didn't follow them. Regardless of what his attorney said. We're not asking him to question every prescription that comes through, but when somebody comes through every two to three weeks wanting 100 Lortabs; don't fill 'em," said Creel.
The two doctors in this case both accepted responsibility and expressed remorse before they were sentenced.
For his part, Nick Tran chose to say nothing before his sentence was handed down.
But before imposing sentence, Judge Louis Guirola Jr. said he was struck by Tran's apparent lack of remorse, both for his crimes and for the victims.
"I think it absolutely played a role in the sentencing and it should play a role in the sentence," said Assistant U.S. Attorney John Meynardie, "Even if he maintains his innocence even now, at least the suggestion that something went wrong here and he played a role in it going wrong, would have at least gone some way in mitigating what was clearly no sense of remorse at all."
Defense attorney Morrison said, "Mr. Tran feels that he shouldn't apologize for something he didn't do wrong. He filled prescriptions that were issued by a legitimate medical provider. There was never a suggestion or any evidence that any of the prescriptions were illegitimate."
Morrison said there will be an appeal of the conviction.
"Mr. Tran has been held to the level of a physician. And it requires him to determine whether or not a prescription has been issued properly for the right disease or treatment and for the right diagnosis. And he's not qualified to do that. Simply put, pharmacists are paid to do what the doctor orders them to do," said the defense attorney.
Attorney Morrison raised the issue during his final remarks before sentencing, citing the medical records and prescriptions of a woman whose case was used by the prosecution. She received Lortab pain killers from Tran's Pharmacy.
Prosecutor Meynardie said pharmacists are called upon to dispense drugs for "legitimate medical purposes." He said in the case of this particular woman, she was given another prescription for Lortab when pharmacist Tran knew she had received a 30 day supply of the narcotic just 14 days earlier.
Meynardie told the court a pharmacist has the right to presume a prescription is legitimate, unless he sees evidence to the contrary.
The prosecutor said Nick Tran had "evidence in spades" that prescriptions from next door were illegitimate.
"Almost everything from this clinic [Family Medical Center] was illegal," he told the court.
After the sentencing, Meynardie told WLOX News, "I'm glad it's over with and I'm glad that we have sent a message to those doctors and pharmacists who would choose to not live up to their obligations, that there's a penalty to pay."
That penalty for pharmacist Nick Tran was 10 years in federal prison.