LOS ANGELES — A Los Angeles-area doctor convicted of murder for prescribing exorbitant amounts of painkillers that left a dozen patients dead was sentenced Friday to 30 years to life in prison.
The conviction of Dr. Hsiu-Ying “Lisa” Tseng and her long prison sentence are rare for a doctor.
Minutes before she was sentenced, Tseng apologized in court to the families of her dead patients and others who became addicted to prescription drugs under her care.
“I suffer every day from the impact and I will do everything I can to take responsibility,” she said. “I have learned a very hard lesson on this that will stay with me forever.”
In handing down the harsh sentence, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge George Lomeli said he found it egregious that Tseng continued to write reckless prescriptions even after learning her patients were dying.
“(She’s) a person who seemingly did not care about the lives of her patients in this case but rather appeared more concerned about distributing dangerous controlled substances in an assembly line fashion so as to collect payments which amounted to her amassing several million dollars,” Lomeli said.
The mother of two children will be over 70 before she has a chance at release.
Tseng had asked Lomeli for a 15-year prison term.
Tseng prescribed “crazy, outrageous amounts of medication” to patients who didn’t need the pills, Deputy District Attorney John Niedermann told jurors during her trial.
“Something is wrong with what you’re doing if your patients are dying,” Niedermann said.
Twelve of Tseng’s patients died but she was charged with just three murders because other factors were involved in the other deaths, including drugs prescribed by other doctors and a possible suicide.
Tseng’s lawyer, Tracy Green, has said the 46-year-old doctor had been naive to prescribe so many medications and didn’t think her patients would abuse them. Tseng’s patients often hid addictions to painkillers and Tseng she thought she was helping ease their pain, she said.
The powerful painkillers Tseng prescribed included oxycodone, sold as Percocet and other brand names, and hydrocodone, popularly known under the brand name Vicodin.
The first of her patients to die had received prescriptions from Tseng two days earlier for oxycodone, the anti-anxiety drug Xanax and the muscle-relaxer Soma, prosecutors said.
Tseng was convicted of three counts of second-degree murder and all but one of 21 drug-related counts. She was also charged with illegally writing prescriptions for two of the deceased patients and 16 other people, three of them undercover agents.
Vu Nguyen, 29, of Lake Forest, Steven Ogle, 25, of Palm Desert, and Joseph Rovero, 21, an Arizona State University student from San Ramon, died of overdoses between March and December 2009.
Ogle’s mother, Desiree Ogle, said after the sentencing that her son died in April 2009 eight hours after getting a methadone prescription from Tseng.
“She actually stopped his heart,” Ogle said, adding that she thought Tseng’s lengthy prison term was appropriate. “She froze time for us that day.”
Tseng barely kept any records on the three men until she was contacted by the Medical Board of California, prosecutors said, then fabricated documents to make it look like she had kept thorough records.
Tseng also ignored pleas from family members of patients who demanded she stop prescribing them drugs, prosecutors said.
— Amanda Lee Myers