WASHINGTON – Dr. Robert M. Cao, 39, of Lafayette, Louisiana, and previously of Falls Church, Virginia, pleaded guilty today in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to five felony counts of unlawful distribution of a controlled substance outside the scope of his professional practice. As detailed in court documents, the charges pertain to Cao prescribing various narcotic pain medications in the months and days leading up to an overdose death in Virginia last year.
The announcement was made by U.S. Attorney Matthew M. Graves, Wayne A. Jacobs, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Washington Field Office Criminal Division, and Kevin Davis, Chief of the Fairfax County, Virginia Police Department.
The Honorable Tanya S. Chutkan scheduled sentencing for Feb. 22, 2023.
According to court documents, Cao is a physician who was licensed to practice medicine in the District of Columbia and Virginia. As part of his guilty plea, Cao admitted that on at least five occasions in 2021, he knowingly and intentionally wrote a man identified in court documents as “V.C.” prescriptions for oxycodone and hydrocodone, Schedule II controlled substances with a high potential for abuse. Cao provided the narcotic prescriptions to the victim without having any doctor-patient relationship with him, without any physical examination, diagnosis, or treatment plan, and knowing that the victim had no medical condition that would necessitate such prescriptions.
On May 31, 2021, first responders were dispatched to a Fairfax, Virginia residence in response to a 911 call for assistance regarding “V.C.,” after his girlfriend found him cold and non-responsive. He was pronounced deceased under suspicious circumstances.
A subsequent autopsy report documented the cause of death as acute combined oxycodone and ethanol poisoning. On the nightstand next to where “V.C.” was found were prescription bottles, including one containing Percocet (a brand name of the narcotic analgesic oxycodone/acetaminophen) pills filled on May 23, 2021. Cao was the prescribing doctor listed on the bottle.
Court filings also detail text message exchanges between Cao and “V.C.,” including discussions about Cao prescribing narcotic pain medications to “V.C.” in exchange for agreeing to give Cao a kickback of some of the pills he had prescribed, and meetings between the two, including a meeting in a parking lot on the night before the man’s death so Cao could get a portion of the narcotic pills from “V.C.”
As detailed in court documents, Cao took several steps to avoid detection from law enforcement and regulatory authorities. For example, he advised the victim not to create a paper trail, and to fill the prescriptions at times when they were least likely to be questioned by pharmacies. Cao also hid the pad that he used to write the man prescriptions, which Cao took from a District of Columbia cosmetic office where he previously worked, at his home inside a hollowed-out container made to look like a diary.
After learning of the victim’s untimely death, Cao created fraudulent backdated medical records to make it appear that Cao had provided legitimate prescriptions to the victim as part of a lawful doctor-patient relationship.
This case was investigated by the FBI’s Washington Field Office and the Fairfax County Police Department.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Anne P. McNamara and Christine Macey of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia.
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