In an exceptionally uncommon action, authorities arrested a West Palm Beach former doctor for first-degree murder. His medical license had been revoked two years ago.
According to the Florida’s sun-sentinel.com, Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg said “it’s rare for a doctor to face first-degree murder or manslaughter charges for overprescribing drugs, but it’s becoming more common”. This doctor is being charged for the overdose deaths of two of his patients.
John Christensen, 61, was originally a chiropractor when he received his medical degree in 1995 from Universidad Federico Henriquez y Carvajal School of medicine in the Dominican Republic. The school was shut down in 1998 by officials of the D.R., who established that they uncovered “grave academic deficiencies.” A report filed in the U.S. connected it closely to another school that has also since been closed for being nothing more than a diploma mill.
Christensen claimed to have no knowledge and had heard nothing about the controversy that surrounded his old school; He said he passed all the requisite exams to get his license to practice medicine. “We took the same examinations that the United States medical students took,” he said during a deposition in civil suit that was filed against him in 2010.
That law suit was filed by George and Jacque Lauzerique, the parents of a 21-year-old Royal Palm Beach High School baseball sensation that died while he was sleeping at their Wellington home. Their son, Anthony Lauzerique died from a drug overdose.
Through testimony of the civil suit it was alleged that Christensen blatantly over-prescribed oxycodone, roxycodon, methadone and Xanax tablets to their son which led to his death..
Dr. Christensen settled that lawsuit. State records show his insurance company paid approximately $250,000, but the total amount of the settlement has remained undisclosed.
Although losing the civil suit, Christensen’s pain management clinics continued to thrive. Records show that in the first half of 2011, Medicaid in Florida paid for over 5,000 oxycodone pills per month that Christensen approved for his patients.
But in August 2011 Christensen’s clinics were raided. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) along with other law enforcement agents took boxes of patient data and computer records from his clinic in West Palm Beach. A Daytona Beach chiropractic clinic of which he was a partner was also searched.
The Department of Health suspended Christensen’s license after documents found in the raids showed abuse of over-prescribing certain controlled drugs. Authorities searched Christensen’s home in addition to his offices. Florida’s then-Surgeon General, Dr. Frank Farmer, said in a statement: “Clearly, this practitioner flagrantly disregarded his duties and responsibilities as a practicing physician in Florida, jeopardizing the health and welfare of his patients.” A complaint which was filed with the health department stated that he prescribed drugs for cash without even examining his patients.
The current two first-degree murder counts against Christensen were filed because of the overdose death of two of his patients. The drugs that were prescribed were oxycodone, methadone and anti-anxiety drugs. He’s additionally facing charges of conspiracy to traffic oxycodone, unlawful delivery of methadone and unlawful prescription of a controlled substance.
Although the charges against Christensen are in reference to two other patients that died, purportedly due to Christensen’s actions, Jacque Lauzerique said she was relieved to hear about the former doctor’s arrest even though the action was not specifically related to her son’s death. She said that she felt the charges are warranted. “I’ve been waiting for this for a long time,” said Lauzerique. She went on to comment: “It would make your heart sink to think that somebody was doing that to anyone that you loved. You know, they just didn’t care. They were in it for the money. And it was sad.”
Last Friday a judge denied bail but his attorney suggested that his client should be presumed innocent. He is presently being held in the Palm Beach County Jail.
Similarly charged in the case is another defendant, Dr. Stewart Fox, 62, of Boynton Beach. Authorities say that he worked at Christensen’s West Palm Beach office. He faces allegations of conspiracy to traffic in oxycodone, unlawful delivery of methadone and unlawful prescription of a controlled substance. No murder charges of any variety have been associated with the second doctor.
The investigation of the two doctors has been ongoing since January 2011. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement has commented that they have 35 overdose deaths under review linked to Christensen’s offices located in West Palm Beach, Daytona Beach and Port St. Lucie.
Just two days before the first-degree murder counts were charged against Christensen, former Delray Beach doctor, Barry Schultz, was detained on a manslaughter charge for the death of a 50-year old patient who overdosed on methadone.
In a related case, Joseph Wagner, a chiropractor that operated the Wagner Chiropractic & Acupuncture Clinic located in Volusia County was jailed last year after his conviction of health care fraud, conspiracy to illegally distribute prescription drugs, and money laundering. He was partners in the venture with the then Dr. Christensen who was not charged in the case. Wagner was sentenced to 15 years and eight months in federal prison.
Although law enforcement has been tightening the noose on these abusers the problem needs to be further examined. Once known as the “pain clinic capital of the world”, according to Aronberg, Florida is currently attacking these crimes with stricter laws, better enforcement and a new database that monitors the prescriptions of many of the suspected drugs of choice.
The penalty for conviction of First Degree Murder can lead to severe sentencing ramifications including the death penalty in cases where the State files a Notice of Intent to pursue the death penalty.
A skilled criminal defense attorney always seeks to elude a first degree murder conviction and therefore the averting of any possibility of a death penalty. Cases of second degree murder and lesser included offenses can still lead to harsh sentencing decisions, including that of life in prison.
Mr. Cohen is a board certified criminal trial lawyer rated AV by Martindale Hubbel (pre-eminent) and a “Super Lawyer” recognized as being in the top 5% of his specialized field (criminal trial law) among Florida lawyers. He is considered a specialist by the Florida Bar in his field. Mr. Cohen has tried scores of cases over his 35 year career and is a member of the Florida and New York Bars. He practices in Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach and Miami, among other counties. He is also admitted to practice in the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh and Second Circuit.
Mr. Cohen’s practice has recently expanded and he is now a partner in the prestigious law firm of McLaughlin & Stern, LLP. Through this partnership, Mr. Cohen can now lead your defense in the New York Metropolitan area in addition to the Broward, Dade, or Palm Beach County areas as well as all other jurisdictions throughout the state of Florida
Mr. Cohen is also listed in the 2013 edition of “Best Lawyers in America“.