Doctor Considered "Worse Than Corner Drug Dealer" Sentenced to 7 Years
LOS ANGELES (KTLA) -- A Downey doctor described by prosecutors as "worse than a street corner peddler" was sentenced to seven years in federal prison for prescribing powerful pain killers to patients he did not examine, and who did not need them.

Dr. Nazar Al Bussam, 71, was arrested in October 2010 after a three-year investigation by the Drug Enforcement Administration. He was accused of operating a so-called pill mill in which he wrote prescriptions in exchange for cash, regardless of a patient's true need for the drugs.

U.S. District Judge S. James Otero acknowledged the sentence was somewhat lenient because he didn't not want the elderly doctor to die behind bars.

"It fills me with shame to stand before you today," Dr. Nazar Al Bussam told the judge shortly before he was sentenced. "I failed to live up to the standards I tried to set for myself. I can only hope for some opportunity to redeem myself, so help me God."

The Los Angeles Times reports that at least three of the doctor's patients died of drug overdoses in 2007 and 2009. Two other people died -- one from an overdose, the other by falling off a cliff -- with drugs in their systems and pill bottles bearing Al Bussam's name in their possession.

Prosecutors have asked for nearly 20 years in prison for Al Bussam, who graduated from the University of Baghdad College of Medicine in 1963 and began practicing in California more than thirty years ago.

"Unlike a street dealer, the defendant well understood the effects of the poison he peddled," wrote Assistant U.S. Attys. Ariel A. Neuman and Benjamin R. Barron.

Prosecutors say Al Bussam prescribed more than 60,000 highly-addictive painkillers such as OxyContin, Vicodin and Promethazine with codeine.

Promethazine is a cough syrup used to make the newly-popular street concoction "purple drank."

Authorities estimate Al Bussam was receiving $100,000 in cash per month for the illegal prescriptions.

He collected $3,000 to $3,500 in cash payments on an average day at his office in Downey, prosecutors say. Over a two-year period, he deposited $1.8 million in cash into multiple bank accounts.

"Once the drugs were prescribed by Doctor Al Bussam, they would be filled at a pharmacy. Some of the patients would actually ingest the drugs, they were drug addicts. Others would transport or traffic those drugs throughout the United States," Nicholas Trutanich, U.S. Attorney's office told KTLA.

In secretly recorded conversations with DEA agents posing as patients, Al Bussam can be heard coaching them to make up reasons for why they need medications and ignoring obvious red flags such as a "patient" admitting he was taking painkillers for recreational purposes.

"Undercover agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration as well as the California medical board visited Al Bussam's office and were issued prescriptions without a medical necessity," Trutanich said.

People who work in the same medical building as Al Bussam told KTLA that they were not surprised at the arrests. They say the doctor always had a long line of people waiting to see him, even into the night.