While police from four jurisdictions were busy hauling away boxes of painkillers and uppers, wads of filled-in prescription forms and financial records, and an undisclosed amount of cash from the Havre de Grace home and office of Dr. Edward J. Simon this month, there was a nagging question: Just how long had this alleged illegal drug trade been going on?
Maryland State Police investigators say the regular traffic of known drug dealers between the physician's Bourbon Street office and the City Pharmacy around the corner, where medicines and records were also seized, had been going on for more than six months.
They knew for some time that the pharmacy on North Union Avenue fills 10 times as many prescriptions for tranquilizers as any of the other four drug stores in town, even though its prices are not at super-discount levels.
Police said the initial complaints came from anonymous private citizens who spotted known drug abusers beating a frequent path between the office of the septuagenarian doctor and the nearby pharmacy. That's right, law-abiding neighbors or passers-by who always carry the photos and descriptions of known drug dealers at large were the first to blow the whistle, before the police began their investigation.
Funny how that kind of specialized identification eluded the notice of the local law enforcers. They don't seem to have much trouble identifying out-of-state "drug rings" that invade our friendly confines, at least according to the press releases.
Finally, the state police Drug Enforcement Division sent an undercover officer to solicit a painkiller prescription from the doctor, allegedly for a "girlfriend" whom the doctor had never seen as a patient.
Anyway, from all reports by the news media, the citizen whistle-blowers on Dr. Simon were likely not his neighbors or the people who had known him in the years since he hung out his shingle for private practice here a half-century ago.
They knew him as disorganized, a sloppy record-keeper, a lone-wolf professional without a secretary, an 77-year-old physician with vision and hearing problems of his own, a practitioner who kept short morning hours so that he could slip away to the racetrack for an afternoon of recreation, after years of keeping evening hours to accommodate working folk and even making house calls.
People who knew him also depicted him as a caring man, a small-town GP who would follow up on his patients' conditions, a human being who would readily help someone who asked for it.
Maybe a little too trusting, a little too sympathetic, a little too nonchalant with his power of prescription. But not the sort of Dr. Dealer running a pill-pusher prescription mill for the fast buck, they said.
And yet, despite his apparently scaled-down practice, with an image of being behind the times in his profession, Doc Simon still seemed to make good money, with a busy turnover of patients.
If there was one thing that bothered neighbors, it was the line of patient cars parked outside his tiny office that sometimes
prevented them from parking near their homes. Was that parking jam bad enough to raise suspicions that something fishy was going on? Not according to those who are now talking about Dr. Simon and his half-century of practicing medicine.
Let's be clear: Dr. Simon and Dominic Gasdia, the owner of City Pharmacy, have not been charged with any criminal offense, nor has Salvatore Gasdia, Dominic Gasdia's father, who works at the drug store. The three men have declined to comment on the situation, on the advice of lawyers. They are innocent until proven guilty.
State Police said the three were under investigation for more than six months, and that the doctor's patients included convicted dealers who sold the drugs to others. Harford County State's Attorney Joseph Cassilly said that charges will be brought, that it's only a matter of time.
Authorities held a quick news conference to display the stuff after the raid. The alleged evidence didn't include many of Dr. Simon's patient files; there were virtually none, a notable lack that police openly equated with the alleged criminal intent of prescribing drugs for street sale.
Curiously, there seems to be no rush to bring charges, after all this effort and accusation. (Is that a familiar theme of criminal investigations in Harford County?) After the evidence has been sifted and marshaled, the case will be presented to the grand jury to determine if indictments are warranted, Mr. Cassilly said.
Citing his advanced age and declining health, Dr. Simon surrendered his medical license last week to the state Physicians Quality Assurance Board to avoid a detailed investigation, a hearing and likely suspension of that license. He can't treat patients or write prescriptions in Maryland or elsewhere.
The case of Dr. Simon is not unique.
Every year, the board examines the licenses of a few elderly doctors who have allegedly failed to exercise proper prudence in prescribing these medicines that are best sellers in illegal narcotics trade. It happens in other states, too.
But rare is the case where private citizen crime-stoppers trigger the official investigations. The culprits are usually tripped up by prescription-reporting of controlled narcotics, or through arrests of the street dealers who inform on them.
Mike Burns is The Baltimore Sun's editorial writer in Harford County.