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In rare case, Hillsborough doctor goes to trial on drug trafficking charge

TAMPA — In the first trial of its kind in Hillsborough County, a doctor stands accused of prescribing undercover detectives enough addictive medication to be considered drug trafficking.

Court records and testimony given Tuesday paint a picture of a busy Seffner clinic where patients would line up at 1 p.m. most days and talk about how easy it was to get prescriptions from Dr. John Mubang.

But unlike most trafficking trials, prosecutors this week will have to prove that Mubang acted in "bad faith" — that he didn't give the proper level of care. Evidence that drugs were handed off isn't enough by itself because physicians are allowed to prescribe controlled substances.

On Tuesday, as the trial began prosecutors brought two undercover detectives to the stand to try to demonstrate the medications they got from the doctor in 2008 were unnecessary.

Both testified that Mubang, 59, never physically examined them, never asked them about their medical histories and never discussed the possible dangers of the drugs he prescribed.

Detective Anthony Bordonaro got prescriptions for Vicodin, a painkiller; Robaxin, a muscle relaxant; and Xanax, an antianxiety drug. Deputy William Sims got Flexeril, a muscle relaxant; and Percocet, a painkiller.

Bordonaro said that on his first visit, he told Mubang he had taken some of his friend's Vicodin and liked it. When Mubang wrote him a prescription for 30 pills, Bordonaro said he asked about the number and Mubang changed it to 90.

In their opening statement and cross-examination, defense attorneys painted a starkly different view of Mubang.

He cares for his patients and wanted to help the undercover detectives, said attorney Arthur Eggers.

"He believed they were in pain," Eggers said.

He pointed to a Sheriff's Office incident card that Bordonaro brought in as "proof" of his fictitious car accident, which the detective had said prompted his visit.

Eggers also showed jurors the patient progress reports that were filled out during each visit. When Mubang received the files, medical assistant Yvette Ferlita already had written at the top of the form, according to court records and testimony.

In Detective Sims' case, his file read, "top shoulder severe pain." Ferlita testified it was her handwriting.

Sims said he never complained of severe pain — not even to Ferlita. Each deputy said he was instructed to never use the word "pain" during the undercover visits — but to use only general terms like "stiffness" or "tightness."

Nonetheless, that's what Mubang would have seen when he received the file, Eggers said.

Cases like Mubang's are unusual partly because doctors aren't often arrested for writing prescriptions — even for the most addictive pain pills.

In the highly publicized "pill mill" raids, arrest warrants are usually for office managers, nurses, medical assistants and sometimes pharmacists.

"If they're a real doctor, then they have every right to prescribe medication," Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Debbie Carter said. "The only way they'd be arrested is if they have done something that'd be breaking the law."

Mubang opened a private practice in Seffner in 2003, and continued to work even after he was charged in July 2008. His license remained unblemished as he awaited trial.

Mubang is expected to testify today.

Times staff photographer Joseph Garnett Jr. contributed to this report. Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at jvandervelde@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3433.

In rare case, Hillsborough doctor goes to trial on drug trafficking charge 09/14/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, September 15, 2010 7:34am]
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