A physician dubbed the "Candy Man of Goleta"--because he allegedly wrote illegal prescriptions for a shitload of narcotics that prosecutors have tied to 20 patient deaths--was allowed to withdraw his guilty plea to 11 felony counts in Santa Ana federal court.
U.S. District Court Judge Cormac Carney, who accepted Julio Gabriel Diaz's guilty plea in January to 11 out of 88 felony counts he faced, allowed the physician to change the plea Wednesday based on his argument that he received ineffective counsel from his prior attorney, Michael Guisti.
At a July hearing, Carney indicated that Diaz faced up to 200 years in prison for copping to 10 counts of distributing controlled substances without a legitimate medical purpose and one count of distributing controlled substances to a minor. "I told him I'm not going to sentence him to 200 years, but I didn't know how far below 200 years I was going to go," Carney said.
The possibility of a long term came after federal prosecutors brought up the 20 deaths that they claimed were tied to Diaz having doled out oxycodone, methadone, hydrochodone, alprazolam, fentanyl, hydromorphone and other drugs to Santa Barbara County addicts with no legitimate need for the powerful narcotics in 2009 and 2010.
"It was very clear the discovery was never shared with the defendant, he was never advised of any of this, and he was misadvised," Diaz's new lawyer Kate Corrigan said after Carney let Diaz withdraw his plea. "This is basic sentencing 101 material."
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Guisti had argued in July that his client had never been charged with the deaths, but Carney said that he must take them into consideration if they are tied to the narcotics Diaz prescribed. Guisti also claims that Assistant U.S. Attorney Ann Wolf told him that with a guilty plea, Diaz could get probation and/or the minimum sentence of a year in prison that would be wiped out with time already served.
Wolf, who has claimed probation was never on the table and that Diaz signed a plea agreement that indicated he could at least receive the minimum sentence, made a motion aimed at denial of the plea change because disagreement over the length of a sentence is seldom tied to ineffective counsel.
All of this is now to be sorted out at trial in May at the federal courthouse in Santa Ana, where Corrigan has indicated another plea deal is possible.