SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) — A California doctor known as the "Candy Man" and linked to a dozen drug deaths pleaded guilty Thursday to illegally prescribing powerful painkillers to his patients.
Julio Gabriel Diaz, 64, pleaded guilty to 11 felony counts in an Orange County courtroom and is scheduled to return to court June 2 to face a sentence of up to 200 years in prison. He also faces up to $10 million in fines.
Diaz's attorney Michael Guisti said his client decided to plead guilty because it "was in his best interest." Guisti declined further comment.
Diaz was arrested at his home in Santa Barbara County two years ago and supplied prescription drugs to addicts and women who had sex with him in exchange for the drugs, authorities said. Diaz gave the prescriptions for OxyContin and Vicodin to people who had no legitimate need for the narcotics, prosecutors said.
Court documents show investigators believe a dozen deaths — 11 of which were overdoses — have been linked to Diaz, but he hasn't been charged in connection with the deaths.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Ann Luotto Wolf declined to say what sentence prosecutors will recommend but expects that some of the victims' families will speak at the sentencing hearing or write letters to the judge.
"You can achieve a just sentence by making the court aware of such deaths without necessarily charging or proving them," Wolf said.
The state's medical board was alerted to Diaz's practices by doctors and nurses at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital who saw his patients come into the emergency room with drug problems. Two female patients indicated they were among numerous people who used sex to pay for narcotics from Diaz, according to an affidavit filed in the case.
Diaz was known as the "Candy Man" by some of his patients and was often described as a doctor who can get anything for his clientele, investigators said.
Once his patients filled the prescriptions, some of the pills were sold on the streets, while others used them. One man who died in November 2011 was prescribed more than 2,000 pills in the six weeks before he died, authorities said.
Diaz previously told the Los Angeles Times that "perhaps there were some hints there that I should have known they were going to overdose."
A study by an insurance company documented nearly $1 million in claims for prescriptions written by Diaz over a three-year period, according to court documents.