Days before he reports to prison for violating federal drug laws, an NBC 7 undercover investigation revealed a local doctor is still seeing patients despite a state order prohibiting him from doing so.
William Joseph Watson, 59, who was an osteopathic physician in Del Mar, was sentenced earlier this month in federal court. He pleaded guilty in August to one count of conspiracy to distribute and dispense oxycodone without a legitimate medical purpose.
Click here to see more on Watson’s sentencing.
Watson is scheduled to report to federal prison on Jan. 8 and is expected to spend five years in custody for selling prescriptions for powerful narcotics to patients who had no medical need for those drugs.
According to a “cease and desist” order from the Osteopathic Medical Board of California, Watson is also prohibited from seeing any patients while he's free on bond awaiting his prison sentence.
But an NBC 7 Investigates producer called Watson to schedule an appointment with him for her sore toe. The appointment was scheduled for Dec. 12. The producer showed up and so did Watson.
Watson reviewed a 10-page new patient form with the producer, asking questions about prior medical problems, dietary behaviors and medication history. After completely reviewing the new patient form, Watson treated the producer’s sore toe.
“This regulatory body said 'halt,’ you've done something wrong, you violated those conditions, stop,” Ted Mazer, an expert in doctor licensing and discipline, said. “By ignoring that, the physician is sanctionable, probably could lose his license permanently and is committing a crime under California statute and is putting 'you,' the patient, at risk.”
Mazer serves on the executive committee of the California Medical Association.
He said Watson clearly violated the board's order, by advertising his services online as a D.O., or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine.
Mazer said Watson also violated the board’s order by offering medical advice and treatment as well as charging for office visits.
Watson charged the NBC 7 Investigates producer $225 for the initial visit and recommended she return at least three more times.
During the visit with Watson, the doctor told the producer he is rebuilding his practice and treats more than ten patients a week.
When NBC 7 Investigates reporter Mari Payton asked Watson if he was still seeing patients after the board ordered him not to, Watson said he sees “people” not “patients.”
In court earlier this month, Watson admitted making “serious mistakes” and said he accepts full responsibility for wrongly prescribing thousands of powerful narcotics, including oxycodone, to patients without performing a proper physical exam and property assessing their need for the addictive painkillers.
In his plea deal, Watson admitted to giving painkiller prescriptions to addicts and dealers, who would use the drugs themselves or sell them on the street.
In return, those “patients” gave Watson thousands of dollars in cash and luxury gifts, including designer handbags, vintage wines and jewelry, according to DEA agents. Documents obtained by NBC 7 Investigates reveal Watson charged about $170 for a prescription for a month’s supply of highly-addictive painkillers.
DEA investigators said some of those patients re-sold the prescription narcotics on the street, or exchanged them for heroin.
The doctor’s actions contributed to the overdose death of a young patient, said prosecutor Sheppard, who told the judge that “40 percent of the pills (that Watson) peddled were not for medical purposes… He did this for money, flat out, and he ruined lives.”
Watson maintains the services he provides helps patients and told NBC 7 Investigates he "doesn't think" he needs to serve time in prison.
“I see people that want to be seen that I can help,” Watson said. “I don't see patients, I see people that want to be helped with what I do. I am an amazing doctor. I have taken care of so many.”
The Osteopathic Medical Board of California confirmed to NBC 7 Investigates Watson is violating state regulations by treating patients.
A board spokesman also told us the agency is preparing another accusation against Watson to "revoke" his license.
As a result of this NBC 7 Investigates story, the board is updating its license verification system to make it easier for consumers to check on their doctors.