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Former GF doctor to plead guilty

A former physician who worked only a month in Grand Forks last year as a psychiatrist has agreed to plead guilty to a federal charge of conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance.

A former physician who worked only a month in Grand Forks last year as a psychiatrist has agreed to plead guilty to a federal charge of conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance.

Enrique Rivera Mass, 56, sold 1.8 million prescriptions for pills online to people in nearly every state without seeing their medical histories, according to federal prosecutors.

Mass' attorney, Jose Barreto-Rampolla, of San Juan, Puerto Rico, told The Associated Press his client didn't know he was breaking the law and that he paid taxes on the money he received for writing the prescriptions.

Mass returned to his native Puerto Rico and lost his medical license, his attorney said.

According to court documents filed in Fargo, Rivera Mass became involved in selling prescriptions on the Internet while he still was in Puerto Rico and the charges say he did it from Jan. 1, 2007 until April 2009.


Barreto-Rampolla said his client didn't understand what the laws were on Internet pharmacies.

"I think a lot of doctors are uneducated about that," Barreto-Rampolla said. "But that's not a defense."

Tammy Christenson, chief operating officer for the Center for Psychiatric Care in Grand Forks, said Rivera Mass worked at the Center as a psychiatrist from Feb. 16 to March 18, 2009, at which time he was "released from his contract . . . for not being able to fulfill the requirements of the contract."

Of his admitted illegal dealings, Christenson said, "It's my understanding is that those events occurred completely outside of what he was doing at the Center for Psychiatric Care."

Prosecutors said most of the prescriptions were for weight loss drugs, primarily phentermine, but also included sleep and anxiety medications, painkillers and the smoking cessation drug Chantix.

Rivera Mass issued prescriptions for customers in almost every state, the government said.

In the Internet fraud, he "reviewed a patient questionnaire, dosages requested and then approved the order form," prosecutors said in court documents filed last week.

"He did not have access to medical records of the patients for review nor did he ever meet or talk to any patients prior to approval of an order. Dr. Rivera Mass had no contact with any customary primary physician and made no requests for medical records."


Rivera Mass dispensed, or caused to be dispensed, at least 108,084 doses of "Schedule III" controlled substances illegally, and at least 1.672,710 doses of "Schedule IV" controlled substances illegally, prosecutors say.

Federal drug enforcement experts have said in recent years that prescription drug abuse is the fastest-growing category of drug crime in the United States.

The charge Rivera Mass will plead guilty to carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison; prosecutors have said they will cut him slack for some cooperation in the case. Prosecutors also are demanding that he surrender profits of about $100,000.

Barreto-Rampolla said Rivera Mass cooperated with the government and the fact that he paid income and Social Security taxes on his earnings indicates that he didn't intend to be involved in a conspiracy.

"He also had his medical license revoked. He cannot work as a doctor. It's a double whammy," the lawyer said. "Hopefully, the judge will be lenient enough to allow some constructive type of sentencing."

U.S. District Judge Ralph Erickson scheduled sentencing for April 15.

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