Overprescribing Doctor Convicted of Three Murders

Landmark Decision Does Not Bode Well for Pill-Mill Doctors

Dr. Hsiu-Ying
Dr. Hsiu-Ying "Lisa" Tseng. © Getty Images

A Los Angeles doctor has been convicted by a jury on three counts of second-degree murder in connection with her patients' overdose deaths in what officials described as a landmark case.

A jury found Dr. Hsiu-Ying "Lisa" Tseng guilty of murder after 10 days of deliberations in the deaths of three of dozens of her patients who died from overdoses of painkillers overprescribed by the doctor.

Crackdown on Pill Mills

The conviction comes as legislators and law enforcement officials across the United States continue to crackdown on a growing increase in abuse of prescription medication that has been described as a nationwide epidemic.

Other physicians caught overprescribing pain medication have been convicted of reckless endangerment and drug trafficking charges, but few have ever been charged and convicted of murder in connection with their patients' overdose deaths.

The Los Angeles murder case against Dr. Tseng was intended to send a message to other doctors who prescribe pain pills to patients that they know are addicted.

Prescribed 'Crazy, Outrageous' Amounts

"You can't hide behind a white lab coat and commit crimes," Deputy District Attorney John Niedermann told reporters after the conviction. "Writing a prescription to someone knowing that they're going to abuse it and potentially die was the theory of second-degree murder that we had."

During closing arguments, Niedermann told the jury that Tseng prescribed "crazy, outrageous amounts of medication" to patients who didn't need the pills to manage pain.

Besides the three murder convictions, Tseng was convicted of illegally writing prescriptions for 16 other patients, including two undercover agents.

They testified to how easy it was to obtain addictive prescription pain pills after brief office visits.

Fabricated Patients' Records

She was convicted of killing Vu Nguyen, 29; Steven Ogle, 25; and Joseph Rovero, 21. The three died of drug overdoses between March and December 2009.

During the trial, the jury was told that Tseng had few if any records on the three victims, but after she was contacted by the Medical Board of California she fabricated patient charts to make it appear that she kept detailed records and that she was weaning them off their medications.

Niedermann said dozens of Tseng's patients died, but others had obtained pills from other sources also.

Ignored Overdose Warnings

The prosecutor told the jury that Tseng continued to prescribe outrageous amounts of pills to her patients even after several of her patients overdosed, including one who overdosed in her office and had to be revived.

Niedermann told the jury that Tseng's motive was profit. She built a new clinic building in Rowland Heights with the profits that she made, which over one three-year period totaled more than $5 million.

Tseng also ignored the pleas from the family members of some of her patients who begged her to stop prescribing painkillers to their addicted loved ones, including the mother of Joseph Rovero.

When she is sentenced on December 14, she faces up to life in prison.

Verdict to Be Appealed

Tseng's defense attorney Tracy Green told the jury that his client was guilty only of naively trusting her patients. He said they hid their addictions from Tseng by seeing other doctors and getting prescriptions filled from different pharmacies.

Green said he was disappointed with the jury's landmark verdict and plans to appeal it.

"It's disappointing," Green said. "I don't think it bodes well for doctors in America."

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