More Victims Come Forward in Doctor's Painkiller Sex Scandal: DEA - NBC 7 San Diego

More Victims Come Forward in Doctor's Painkiller Sex Scandal: DEA

Dr. Naga Raja Thota, 62, was arrested Wednesday for allegedly prescribing highly-addictive painkillers to patients in exchange for sexual favors

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    New Victims Come Forward in Painkiller Sex Scandal: DEA

    At least a dozen new victims have come forward to federal authorities over the past 24 hours in a federal case against a San Diego doctor accused of prescribing painkillers to patients in exchange for sex. NBC 7’s Ashley Matthews reports. (Published Thursday, Sept. 1, 2016)

    At least a dozen new people have come forward to federal authorities over the past 24 hours alleging they were victims of a San Diego doctor accused of prescribing painkillers to patients in exchange for sex.

    Amy Roderick with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) told NBC 7 on Thursday that federal agents had been contacted by at least a dozen possible victims since news broke Wednesday of the arrest of El Cajon-based Dr. Naga Raja Thota, M.D., 62.

    By Friday morning, the number of possible victims that had come forward had grown to at least 25. Roderick said the investigation is ongoing, and could not offer further details.

    NBC 7 spoke with a woman Thursday, who wished to remain anonymous, who said she was once a patient of Thota's.

    Doctor Accused in Pills and Sex Scandal

    [DGO] Doctor Accused in Pills and Sex Scandal
    Dr. Naga Raja Thota, 62, was arrested at his practice in San Diego's East County for allegedly prescribing addictive painkillers to patients who didn't need the medication, in exchange for sexual favors. NBC 7's Dave Summers reports.
    (Published Thursday, Sept. 1, 2016)

    This woman claimed that during her time as his patient, she had some very uncomfortable conversations with Thota. She said the doctor would often call her "Barbie," and allegedly made comments about a low-cut shirt she wore and a necklace that hung low onto her chest.

    She also said that there was always a female nurse in the room during her appointments with Thota and when he'd make inappropriate remarks towards her, the nurses would uncomfortably laugh off the comments.

    From the first time she met him, the woman told NBC 7 she felt Thota's behavior was inappropriate. She wound up leaving his medical practice and switching to another doctor. She said she believes she was sexually harassed by Thota and wishes she would have reported the incident to authorities sooner.

    The former patient told NBC 7 that while being prescribed medication by Thota, her prescriptions kept increasing in dosage and strength, and she had no idea why.

    As of Thursday morning, Thota's medical office -- the Pain Management Center located at 2732 Navajo Rd. -- was still operating, with another physician at the practice taking patients, NBC 7 confirmed.

    The office was raided by federal agents Wednesday morning and Thota was taken into custody on allegations connected to the painkillers and sex scandal.

    Doctor Accused of Prescribing Painkillers for Sex Arrested

    East County Doctor Accused of Over Prescribing Painkillers for Sex Arrested
    The accused doctor, Naga Raja Thota, M.D., was arrested at the Pain Management Center in El Cajon. Thota is suspected of over prescribing painkillers to patients in exchange for sexual relations. NBC 7’s Ashley Matthews reports.
    (Published Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2016)

    Thota was arraigned in federal court Wednesday afternoon before U.S. Magistrate Judge Bernie Skomal. He is charged with seven counts of dispensing controlled substances without a legitimate medical purpose. If convicted on all charges, Thota faces a maximum sentence of 20 years behind bars, plus a $1 million fine and life-term of supervised release.

    The doctor is being represented by San Diego-based lawyer Robert C. Schlein, who has been his attorney for the past two years.

    On Thursday, Schlein told NBC 7 his client will enter a not guilty plea. The attorney said Thota posted bond after his arraignment and was released from federal custody Wednesday night.

    In a federal complaint filed against Thota, the doctor is accused of prescribing highly-addictive opiate painkiller medications to young female patients who did not need the pills for medical purposes.

    Investigators allege that Thota prescribed the painkillers with the intent of getting his patients addicted. He then developed romantic relationships with at least three patients in the complaint, and once they were addicted, would ask the patients to engage in sex acts with him in exchange for more prescriptions.

    The case against Thota involves three patients in their early to mid-20s. Two of those women became hooked on heroin as a result of the over-prescribing of painkillers by Thota, the complaint states.

    Thota's prescriptions for these patients included Oxycodone, Methadone and Alprazolam. In one case, he allegedly wrote prescriptions for a patient under the names of her brother, father and a friend in order to bypass any issues that could stem from writing too many prescriptions for one patient.

    In some cases, he allegedly drove the patients "from pharmacy to pharmacy" to get the medications filled, the complaint says, and even gave $50 to one patient so she could pay for her prescription.

    According to investigators, Thota paid for many gifts for the patients in this case, too, including cell phones, jewelry and shopping sprees.

    The complaint says one patient alleges that Thota even offered to pay her $100 once to have sex with him.

    The DEA has been investigating Thota for several years. Federal agents served the first search warrants in this investigation on Thota's medical practice on Navajo Road on May 27, 2015.

    The doctor was first interviewed by investigators at the U.S. Attorney's Office in San Diego on June 4, 2015, mainly about prescriptions he wrote for patients mentioned in the complaint. He met again with the feds on Dec. 15, 2015, while in the presence of his defense attorney, the complaint says.

    Search warrants were served on Thota's medical practice on Navajo Road on March 16, 2016. During that search, federal agents discovered more text messages between Thota and one of the patients in the complaint, plus nude photos of another patient in the complaint.

    Read the full complaint filed on Aug. 30 here.

    At the doctor's arraignment on Wednesday, Judge Skomal set Thota's bail at $100,000. The doctor was also ordered to not contact any of the patients involved in the case. Thota can still work at his pratice but with some restrictions, the judge said. He is still able to prescribe pain medicine to female patients, but only under the supervision of another physician while this case is pending.

    Superior Court of California records obtained by NBC 7 show Thota has been involved in two medical malpractice cases and one professional negligence case in San Diego County since 2013.

    According to the Medical Board of California, Thota has a current "Physician and Surgeon A" license to practice that expires on Aug. 31, 2018. His license was issued on Sept. 14, 1994. It states Thota graduated from Dr. NTR University of Health Sciences in Vijayawada in India on Jan. 1, 1979.

    The Medical Board of California license information shows one "administrative disciplinary action" on Thota's record and lists his status as "probation" as a result of disciplinary action. The license also says "limitations have been placed on the physician's practice."

    Thota was placed on probation effective March 2, 2016, according to the Medical Board of California. He was suspended from practicing for one month, from March 18 to April 16. Per the Board, Thota's probation term is seven years.

    The probation terms state he is "prohibited from engaging in the solo practice of medicine and supervising physician assistants and shall not order, prescribe, dispense, administer, furnish of possess any controlled subtances, except for those drugs listed in schedules IV and V. Dr. Thota shall be subject to this restriction until he completes a prescribing course."

    The investigation is ongoing. Lenox said there may be more victims out there. Roderick said anyone who believes they are victims of Thota in this case can call federal law enforcement at (858) 616-4100.

    Thota is scheduled to appear in court again on Sept. 13.