GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A Grand Rapids doctor faces federal charges after allegedly writing unnecessary prescriptions for thousands of opioid pills, apparently to fund his own drug habit.
Dr. Richard Piazza is accused of conspiracy to distribute controlled substances, according to a criminal complaint filed in federal court Monday.
Court documents also show Piazza lost his license in other states and once faced criminal charges in Iowa.
Most recently, he obtained licenses in Grand Rapids, Marquette, Bay City and Kincheloe, according to the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs database. His licenses outside of Grand Rapids lapsed years ago.
In the criminal complaint, a Drug Enforcement Administration task force member said Piazza has been writing bad prescriptions for opioids like oxycodone, hydrocodone and Dilaudid, and for anti-anxiety medications like diazepam since at least December 2017.
The complaint says the DEA was tipped off about Piazza by a pharmacist who noticed he was writing a lot of prescriptions for opioids, which the pharmacist thought was odd because Piazza worked at the Society of Healing Arts Institute in Grand Rapids' Eastown neighborhood, a holistic medicine clinic.
Clinic owner Paul Farage says he hired Piazza to certify people for medical marijuana but had to fire him in the summer of 2018.
"I found out the beginning of January or maybe March that something was going on because we were getting calls from pharmacies about prescriptions that were not being done here," Farage told 24 Hour News 8 Wednesday. "There were too many people he was bringing in through the back door. I did not put together that any of them could be here illegally or getting prescriptions illegally. What I saw was that the doctor had a side business and was not including this office.
"A lot of what he was doing here was legitimate. What he was doing outside of this office that was what was in question," Farage added.
In January 2018, investigators say they found someone carrying three narcotics prescriptions from Piazza made out to three people. According to the complaint, the man admitted he had received a total of about 30 such prescriptions straight from Piazza. He also admitted the two others named on the prescriptions were conspiring to sell the pills on the street.
In one case, Piazza wrote him four phony prescriptions on a single day. In exchange, the man said he gave Piazza cash up to $400 per prescription or other drugs like meth.
In September and October 2018, another man told investigators that Piazza wrote him a prescription for oxycodone, then told him to give the pills to someone else as payment for crystal meth. The second man said he had also driven Piazza around to write bad prescriptions elsewhere in exchange for cash, marijuana and cocaine.
A third man also told investigators that he got prescriptions from Piazza so he could sell the pills on the street and gave Piazza cash and meth in exchange.
Authorities say they also have text messages from Piazza's phone in which he discusses writing fake prescriptions.
The complaint says that in all, the Michigan Automated Prescription System shows Piazza wrote bad prescriptions for more than 10,000 pills, the majority of them opioids, between December 2017 and January of this year.
Many of those bad prescriptions were written at an undisclosed location in Montcalm County, according to investigators. The documents add that Piazza was charged in Montcalm County with possession of cocaine and intent to distribute marijuana in September 2018. That case has been bound over to trial.
"I'm disappointed," Farage said. "The thing is he was using our office as a home office and that's the part that really upsets me because now we are associated with the doctor in an illegal capacity.
"I feel like our trust has been betrayed," he continued. "It's really a personal thing for me because I feel like I helped him in every way that I could and he just used our office."
Piazza, an osteopathic medicine doctor, previously gave up his licenses in Kansas for overprescribing and in California for an undisclosed reason.
He was also disciplined while working in Iowa and ultimately lost his license there for unprofessional conduct and fraud. Officials in Iowa say Piazza never told them he had a criminal history spanning from 2000 to 2005. Charges included battery, disorderly conduct, unlawful discharge of a firearm, domestic violence, bodily hard, violation of a protective order and trespassing, according to court records.
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