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Doctor, Pharmacist Accused in Miss. Narcotics Distribution Denied Bond

June 14, 2008

GULFPORT, Miss. _ A federal magistrate has denied bond again for a doctor and pharmacist whose support group is so strong that friends had offered to mortgage their homes to raise bail money.

And in the doctor’s case, a half-dozen people were willing to take her place in jail pending trial Aug. 18.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Michael W. Crosby, a Gulfport, Miss., attorney representing Dr. Victoria Van.

Van and pharmacist Nick Tran were allowed re-consideration of bond Friday. They’re accused of conspiring to dispense controlled substances outside the scope of professional practice.

Or as a DEA agent has testified, they’re accused of providing prescriptions to drug-seekers without proper examination, leading to an influx of narcotics on the street and contributing to at least nine deaths by drug overdose.

U.S. Magistrate Judge John M. Roper heard new information Friday from attorneys hired after the defendants’ arrests May 21. Roper decided he still considers them flight risks for reasons including the possibility of hidden assets, especially for Van and her husband, and Tran’s questionable transfers of money.

“I remain of the opinion that there is no condition of release that will ensure their future appearance,” Roper said.

Also charged in the 22-count indictment are Van’s husband, Dr. Thomas Trieu, and Richard Trieu, their office manager at the now-closed Family Medical Center in Biloxi, Miss.

Crosby and Tran’s attorney, Albert Fong of Houston, presented testimonials describing Van’s and Tran’s character and efforts to help others. Both were educated in America after they fled Vietnam with their families in 1975 during the fall of Saigon to communism.

Van’s father, pastor of a California church, was among about 50 people who showed up Friday for moral support. Van has done mission work and devoted her life to helping the impoverished, including survivors of Hurricane Katrina, her attorney said.

She and her husband have two toddlers.

Tran wept openly as a neighbor and golf buddy testified he would house him and drive him to work at a $12-an-hour job as a hotel clerk if given bond. Tran claimed $1.9 million in gross receipts on his 2006 income taxes. He’s not trying to hide money, his attorney said.

Tran is accused of filling 18 questionable prescriptions and Van is accused of writing two questionable prescriptions. Van’s attorney said the prescriptions were for a patient of her husband who had run out of refills and needed a cough syrup. Van was the clinic’s pediatrician, said Crosby, and primarily treated children and women.

DEA Agent Terry Davis said he was suspicious of $38,000 Tran paid a company whose primary business appears to be wiring money. Tran also wrote checks totaling $85,000 to two casinos, raising concerns of a gambling problem, Davis said.

Crosby accused the DEA of unfairly targeting the defendants. In questioning, Davis confirmed no medical experts had been called in to review records or allegations before the arrests were made.

Assistant U.S. Attorney John Meynardie said a medical expert has been hired, but records from the clinic are being scanned and have not yet been reviewed.

“I’m astounded,” said Crosby, “that they could let a DEA agent decide what’s a proper medical exam without allowing a licensed medical doctor to review it. They just threw them all in jail. If the DEA had concerns about the clinic, believed people were taking advantage of them or that lives were at stake, then why didn’t they go to the doctors and discuss it with them?”

The drugs in question are hydrocodone (Lortab), alprazalom (Xanax) and the cough syrup promethazine with codeine (Phenergan with codeine).

The clinic didn’t prescribe stronger, more commonly abused drugs such as Oxycontin or methadone, according to Van’s written testimony. The indictment doesn’t accuse her of prescriptions involved in the alleged deaths.

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(c) 2008, The Sun Herald (Biloxi, Miss.).

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