California doctor faces murder charges for 3 patient prescription drug deaths

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After three weeks of preliminary hearings, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge has ordered a Rowland Heights doctor to stand criminal trial for the prescription drug overdose deaths of three of her patients.

Hsiu-Ying “Lisa” Tseng, 42, is facing three counts of second-degree murder, 20 felony charges for prescribing drugs without legitimate purpose and a charge of prescribing drugs using fraud. Her patients, Vu Nguyen, 29, Steven Ogle, 25, and Joseph Rovero III, 21, all died in 2009.

Dr. Tseng enlisted the help of five defense attorneys. She has pleaded not guilty and is being held on $3 million bail.

Some of the mothers of the men who died sat in the courtroom Tuesday, but April Rovero, mother of Joesph Rovero, attended the three-week preliminary trial nearly every day.

Joseph Rovero was a senior at Arizona State University celebrating the last of his college finals when he and some friends went on a road trip to California. That’s when Dr. Lisa Tseng saw him. Rovero died shortly after that trip from a combination of hydrocodone, Xanax and alcohol.

“I don’t know whether he was in excessive party mode when he took these or if he just took them as prescribed," said April Rovero. "It’s hard to tell because the levels were low."

Rovero said her son was told to go to a specific pharmacy, Pacifica Pharmacy in Huntington Beach, to get the prescribed drugs. Since her son’s death, Rovero founded the National Coalition Against Prescription Drug Abuse.

“He just had this endearing personality. People loved him,” she said.

Prosecutors called on Gloria Rodriguez, a receptionist who worked at the Advanced Care AAA Medical clinic Dr. Tseng opened in 2005. Rodriguez described the office as cramped, overflowing with patients and unorganized documents.

The Drug Enforcement Administration launched an investigation in 2008 after a pharmacy reported overlapping customers. The DEA took her license to prescribe addictive drugs away in 2010. Authorities say she wrote more than 27,000 prescriptions over a three-year period with few examinations.

During the hearings, a video shot by an undercover DEA agent was able to get a prescription for pain for his wrist. Dr. Tseng acknowledged that there seemed to be no obvious harm to his wrist, but wrote him a prescription anyway.

"I am only going to write you a 10-day supply, and I don't want to see you within 10 days, OK?" Tseng said in the video.

Tseng, an osteopathic doctor, told the Los Angeles Times there is nothing she can do if a patient decides to take a month’s supply of drugs in a day.

Her next court hearing is scheduled for July 10.

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