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'Candy Man' doctor convicted of prescribing highly addictive drugs for money, sex

MIAMI - FEBRUARY 25:  Robert Granville reaches for a medicine bottle as he takes his prescription pills on February 25, 2009 in Miami, Florida. Because of budget constraints and a high level of need, Robert is on a one-year waiting list for home care, which many elderly advocates fear may be even longer if funding is cut for these programs due to the economic meltdown. Robert can barely get around his house due to lower back problems and weak legs and found himself in need after falling recently while working outside his house. He spent two days laying on the ground.  (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Robert Granville

MIAMI - FEBRUARY 25: Robert Granville reaches for a medicine bottle as he takes his prescription pills on February 25, 2009 in Miami, Florida. Because of budget constraints and a high level of need, Robert is on a one-year waiting list for home care, which many elderly advocates fear may be even longer if funding is cut for these programs due to the economic meltdown. Robert can barely get around his house due to lower back problems and weak legs and found himself in need after falling recently while working outside his house. He spent two days laying on the ground. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Robert Granville  (2009 Getty Images)

A federal jury in Santa Barbara, Calif., convicted Friday a geriatric doctor of illegally prescribing powerful painkillers that, authorities say, caused at least 20 deaths.

Dr. Julio Diaz, known by his patients as known as the "Candy Man," was found guilty by a federal jury in Santa Ana of 79 charges related to prescribing drugs that included oxycodone and fentanyl. He wasn't charged with any patient deaths.

The 67-year-old Diaz, who ran a clinic in Santa Barbara, wrote illegitimate prescriptions for extremely addictive drugs and could face a decades-long prison sentence, said Ann Luotto Wolf, an assistant U.S. attorney.

"I'm just very pleased with obviously the verdict and the outcome," she said. "I certainly hope that it is sending a message."

Diaz showed no emotion as the last of the verdicts were read in a federal courtroom. In a previous statement, quoted by Los Angeles Times, Diaz admitted responsibility but just to some degree.

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"I do feel responsible. I was the one providing the medications, and perhaps there were some hints there that I should have known they were going to overdose," he told the paper. 

The LA Times reported that, according to investigators, two female patients told hospital staff that they and their friends traded sex for drugs provided by Diaz. 

Prosecutors said some patients waited as long as five hours for a 10-minute appointment and paid for the visits in cash. Diaz consistently refilled prescriptions, sometimes leaving them with his receptionist, and many patients overdosed while in his care, prosecutors said in court filings.

During trial, Diaz testified that he was tricked by patients who lied to get the drugs. His lawyer, Kate Corrigan, said she presented a vigorous defense and planned to appeal.

Diaz, who was arrested in 2012, had previously pleaded guilty to 11 charges but later withdrew his plea, saying he was misadvised about the sentence he was facing and unaware that federal prosecutors would contend that his prescriptions could be tied to 20 people who died.

Most of those patients died from taking multiple drugs between 2006 and 2011 and none of the prescriptions Diaz wrote them served a medical purpose, prosecutors wrote in court filings.

Before Diaz's arrest in 2012, relatives of his patients spent years complaining about him to the state medical board with no obvious effect, the LA Times reported. Court papers showed the father of a patient who died of an apparent overdose had repeatedly called Diaz's office telling him his son was an addict and to stop giving him pills.

Between January 2009 and December 2010, doctors counted more than 400 emergency room visits from Diaz's patients, prosecutors said.

Diaz is scheduled to be sentenced Dec. 14.

Based on reporting by the Associated Press.

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