Saturday, November 29, 2003

Drug dispenser under federal probe


Ky. has own investigation of doctor

By Jim Hannah
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Federal authorities have acknowledged for the first time that a doctor who co-owned and operated several medical clinics across the Tristate has been the focus of a three-year federal investigation into an illegal prescription-drug scheme.

On Wednesday, a federal magistrate judge in Kentucky agreed to a four-month delay in civil forfeiture proceedings. A prosecutor asked for the delay so as not to compromise the related federal criminal investigation of Ghassan Haj-Hamed and unnamed associates.

Court documents allege Haj-Hamed operated offices in Kentucky, Ohio and Indiana that illegally dispensed controlled substances.

Court documents do not detail what charges could result from the investigation. Kentucky charges of prescribing painkillers without a lawful purpose were dropped last year so they wouldn't interfere with the federal investigation.

Haj-Hamed's license has been suspended in Kentucky, and the Ohio Medical Board is investigating.

Neither Haj-Hamed nor his attorney could be reached for comment Friday.

In the past, Haj-Hamed has vigorously denied these allegations. In federal court filings, he said the government should be forced to present its evidence against him before attempting to seize his property.

Haj-Hamed also faces a wrongful death suit filed Jan. 29 in Campbell County by the estate of one of his former patients, Janice Stidham.

Stidham's sister, Brenda Smith, claims that Haj-Hamed, through his practices in Bellevue and Cold Spring, contributed to her sister's death by adding to her drug addiction with more than 56 prescriptions in the last year of her life.

Federal authorities are trying to seize Haj-Hamed's home in the 4000 block of Clifton Ridge Drive, Clifton; Riverside Medical Center at 200 Fairfield Ave. in Bellevue; Riverside Medical Center at 3617 Alexandria Pike in Cold Spring, and buildings at 318 Fairfield Ave. in Bellevue and 822 Monmouth St. in Newport. The real estate is valued at a total of $901,000.

Agents are also going after two Mercedes-Benzes worth $52,663 and nearly $160,000.

When Haj-Hamed's privileges to practice medicine were suspended in Kentucky, state investigators wrote that Haj-Hamed prescribed the often abused painkiller OxyContin "like it is candy." One former employee of the doctor reported feeling "like a drug pusher."

At one clinic in Bellevue, police frequently were called to handle disputes or traffic outside on days when Haj-Hamed was working, said Police Chief William Cole. He said cars arrived from eastern Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio and West Virginia.

The police chief said fights broke out and prescriptions were sometimes solicited or offered for sale. "It was worse than any country bar - it was unbelievable," Cole said.

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E-mail jhannah@enquirer.com




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