Federal prosecutors have set their sights on a former New Orleans police officer charged with accepting envelopes of cash and sexual bribes to conceal the free-wheeling drug distribution of two local pain clinics that authorities have described as “pill mills.”
Donald Nides, a 34-year Police Department veteran who had been assigned to a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration task force, is set to stand trial Monday on a laundry list of felony charges, including conspiring to dispense prescription pills, obstruction of justice and lying to federal agents.
His co-defendants, Dr. Joseph Mogan and Tiffany Miller Gambino, who ran the dubious clinics, pleaded guilty Wednesday and have agreed to testify against Nides, who has maintained his innocence.
As part of her plea agreement, Gambino admitted bribing Nides with thousands of dollars and sexual favors she’d sometimes perform in his vehicle “in exchange for his corrupt protection from law enforcement,” according to court documents.
“It’s just this woman’s word,” said Arthur “Buddy” Lemann, Nides’ defense attorney, adding that he expects Nides to be vindicated at his trial. “This man’s been in law enforcement for more than 40 years. He’s received all kinds of commendations.”
Lemann intends to call several witnesses in an effort to undermine the testimony of Mogan and Gambino, whom he accused of “trying to get themselves a more lenient sentence by falsely implicating my client.”
“We think this is very, very unbelievable testimony by these defendants,” Lemann said, “and hopefully the jury will come to realize that.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Harry McSherry, in a recent court filing, described the case as “a critical matter in which the government is prosecuting a corrupt former DEA Task Force Officer for conduct which took place over many years.”
Mogan and Gambino are expected to work through the weekend helping prosecutors prepare for the trial, McSherry added, in part by reviewing voluminous records, patient files and audio and video recordings.
Mogan and Gambino, in pleading guilty to money laundering and a drug conspiracy dating back to 2003, admitted that their clinics, while purporting to offer pain management, “ultimately did little more than write prescriptions.” They ran Omni Pain Management in Metairie and Omni Pain Management Plus in Slidell, both of which shut down last year after the authorities searched the premises.
The clinics took cash only and wouldn’t accept private insurance, Medicaid or Medicare. Patients, some of whom came to the clinics while under the influence of drugs, would drive long distances and wait for hours to be seen, and the cost of their visits would hinge on which narcotics they sought. The clinics issued frequent prescriptions for “the holy trinity,” a cocktail of painkillers including hydrocodone, a sedative such as Xanax or Valium and a muscle relaxant known as Soma.
“Mogan would occasionally change the quantity and marketing brands of drugs” to disguise the practice, prosecutors said in court documents.
The staff had little to no formal training but engaged in “alternative medical treatments” intended to give the appearance that the clinics offered a full range of medical services, Mogan admitted. Those treatments, prosecutors added in court papers, included the “use of a vibrating chair or table, ultrasound, the use of a silver ‘healing wand’ (and) the use of the doctor’s hands to touch near female patients’ abdomens in the claimed attempt to induce ‘orgasmic’ sensations for the purpose of healing patients whom Mogan perceived to have been sexually abused.”
The clinics took elaborate measures to avoid detection by law enforcement, and prosecutors contend that wouldn’t have been possible without the complicity of Nides, the former NOPD officer.
For instance, Mogan, 47, a psychiatrist who surrendered his medical license in June, insisted patients fill prescriptions for anti-inflammatory drugs to create the veneer that he was acting “like a real legitimate doctor,” the doctor admitted. “Mogan rarely conducted a physical examination or even touched his patients,” prosecutors wrote.
Gambino, 43, claims she made cash payments to Nides and performed sex acts for him in exchange for his assistance in concealing the pill mills. Nides not only failed to investigate the clinics, prosecutors claim, but he also abetted the operation by tipping Gambino off to practices the feds considered to be red flags in prescription pill distribution.
Because throngs of patients clamoring outside a medical clinic before dawn would raise eyebrows among investigators, Gambino claims she limited the number of patients who could sit in the clinics’ waiting rooms and required others to wait in their vehicles. Nides also allegedly warned the clinics to cut back on certain prescriptions that might engender suspicion.
“Often after Nides would visit the clinic, (Gambino) would call the staff together and call the physicians together to instruct them about the new clinic policy changes ‘Mr. Don’ had disclosed,” prosecutors wrote in court documents.
Nides allegedly visited one of the clinics under the guise of collecting “doctor shopping” information for law enforcement purposes and would meet with Gambino behind a locked door in the kitchen, where she allegedly would perform sexual favors for him. Gambino has admitted paying Nides installments ranging from $600 to $2,000 on a regular basis between mid-2004 and May 2008, at times delivering the cash to him while he worked private details.
Nides also is accused of leaking information to Gambino in February 2008 about the DEA’s plans to conduct a raid the next day at Global Health Care, a pain clinic managed by Gambino’s sister. Nides denied tipping off Gambino about the scheduled search, court records show, even though phone records revealed he had a conversation with Gambino only minutes after attending a DEA planning meeting.
Nides, who was indicted in February, also allegedly protected the activities of another pain clinic, Advanced Medical Management, which was owned by the son of Paul Toye III, a fellow police officer and deputized DEA task force agent.
According to prosecutors, agents looking into suspicious activity at that clinic in March 2008 spotted Nides sitting alone in a vehicle in the parking lot “though no one at DEA had requested that he conduct surveillance there.”
“When the agents approached Nides, he claimed that he was on surveillance, had already investigated the suspicious conduct at the clinic and found that the clinic was not engaged in any illegal activity,” McSherry, the prosecutor, wrote in a recent filing. “During Nides’ discussion with the agents, he at no time acknowledged to them that the clinic owners were related to Toye, nor did he suggest that he was a ‘consultant’ to the clinic.”
McSherry wrote that Nides and Toye both were dismissed from the DEA task force in March 2008 after an investigation revealed that Toye was “paid on a bi-weekly basis by Advanced Medical and that Nides had concealed the Toye family’s involvement and his own relationship with that clinic.” Nides, 64, retired from the NOPD in late 2008 and later served as a reserve officer for the agency, but he was discharged as soon as he was indicted.
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