In July 2010, a patient of Daytona Beach chiropractor Joseph Wagner accidentally overdosed within days of being prescribed painkillers, muscle relaxers and anti-anxiety drugs.
That patient lived. Five months later, another one of Wagner's patients — also prescribed a combination of controlled substances — was hospitalized after she suffered a seizure because of Xanax withdrawal.
Neither patient should ever have been given the powerful drugs because Wagner isn't a licensed medical doctor in Florida, and, as a chiropractor, he is prohibited from prescribing controlled substances.
But federal court records and documents from the Florida Department of Health show Wagner repeatedly prescribed powerful, addictive drugs to patients using another doctor's name.
Today, the 62-year-old chiropractor is behind bars at the Orange County Jail, relinquished his license after the Health Department filed an administrative complaint against him and faces up to 40 years in prison.
Federal prosecutors in Orlando filed a criminal complaint against Wagner on May 16, the day he was scheduled to fly to the Dominican Republic with a one-way ticket, according to court records.
Wagner kept at least one bank account in the Dominican Republic, where he traveled previously, and had one account with a balance equivalent to about $76,800 in U.S. currency, records showed.
The documents also showed that Wagner knew he was under federal investigation — he met with agents and an assistant U.S. attorney earlier this year about the case — and officials were concerned he planned to flee the country to evade prosecution.
Wagner's lawyer will argue that the chiropractor be released from jail during a detention hearing Wednesday.
Wagner, who operated the Wagner Chiropractic & Acupuncture Clinic on North Ridgewood Avenue with his son Johnathan Wagner and a South Florida chiropractor, has been under investigation since 2009, when the state received complaints from insurance companies that he billed for services never rendered.
The FBI joined the investigation and found that Wagner was committing insurance fraud and illegally distributing drugs by using the DEA number and name of another doctor.
Confidential sources and undercover law-enforcement officers were utilized during the investigation, and agents seized patient, computer and financial records. According to the case file, agents interviewed more than 60 people, who helped establish the same general set of facts:
Patients received prescriptions for controlled drugs, primarily the painkiller Lortab and anti-anxiety drug Xanax. All of the prescriptions were relayed to various pharmacies in the Daytona Beach area by phone or fax.
Customers who didn't have health insurance paid Joseph Wagner $100 cash, each month, and received a monthly prescription for controlled substances.
Other customers, who were on Social Security disability and covered by Medicare, received weekly prescriptions for controlled substances the same way. Their Medicare coverage was billed for treatments under the name of a doctor who never examined them.
Agents said "S.B.," who has been on disability since 1996, went to the clinic in 1996, believing that Wagner was a chiropractor and medical doctor because those titles were advertised on the business sign.
S.B. was treated at the clinic once a week but noticed that Medicare was billed for treatments three times a week, agents said.
Wagner's business partner, West Palm Beach chiropractor John P. Christensen, has also been under investigation by the state Department of Health. His medical license was suspended May 1, and he was ordered to pay a $10,000 fine. He has not been charged by Orlando federal prosecutors in the case involving Wagner.
Department of Health records in Christensen's case said he and Wagner attended medical school in the Dominican Republic. Christensen went on to become licensed to practice as a medical doctor in Florida, while Wagner never obtained that license.
In 2007, Wagner and Christensen entered into a joint venture to "expand" Wagner's Daytona Beach office, records show. That business partnership remained until the FBI raided both offices in 2011.
From August to December 2010, a patient identified only as "K.R." visited Wagner's Daytona Beach office with complaints of lower-back pain caused by a vehicle accident.
Wagner asked K.R. to sign several blank insurance forms, which he said he would later submit to Geico for reimbursement. The woman obtained weekly prescriptions for hydrocodone, carisoprodol and alprazolam, each prescribed under Christensen's name, even though she never met the doctor.
In December, K.R. was discharged as a patient, and later that month, suffered a seizure and was hospitalized. Health Department records show emergency-room doctors diagnosed K.R. with Xanax withdrawal.
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