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Boardman physician expected to enter guilty plea

YOUNGSTOWN — Dr. Martin Escobar of Boardman, who previously ran the Lake Shore Medical Center in Lake Milton, is scheduled to enter a guilty plea Monday in his federal criminal case, which alleges he prescribed controlled substances “outside of the usual course of professional practice and not for a legitimate medical purpose.”

The specifics of the plea are not known, but it will be held by Zoom at 10 a.m. before U.S. District Court Judge Donald Nugent in Cleveland federal court, according to the federal court website. Escobar is free on bond.

Prosecutors allege prescriptions by Escobar caused the deaths of two patients — one in 2015 and one in 2016.

Escobar, 58, Heatherwood Creek Run, was scheduled for trial Feb. 17. It was recently postponed from last Tuesday “due to COVID issues,” according to court documents.

The most recent activity in the case was an order Jan. 9 by Nugent to allow the videotaped deposition of government witness, Dr. Milton Landers of Kansas City, an expert on controlled substances.

The reason for having Landers testify by video in early February was because he has “serious health problems,” his “condition is worsening,” and he is unable to travel to Cleveland to testify in the trial, according to the order.

Landers was going to testify that Escobar’s prescribing of drugs was “outside the course of professional practice and not for a legitimate medical purpose, which will form an important part of the evidence that (Escobar) violated the Controlled Substances Act,” the order states.

Escobar and his attorneys earlier received reports from Landers detailing his opinion, the order notes.

Deposing Landers is permitted because Landers is unavailable “because of death or then-existing infirmity, physical illness or mental illness,” the order states.

On July 14, 2021, the Ohio Medical Board indefinitely suspended Escobar’s license to practice medicine and surgery for at least one year. His license is currently inactive, according to the Ohio Medical Board.

Escobar allegedly surrendered his U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration registration for Ohio, Michigan and West Virginia as a condition for his release from custody in November 2020 in his criminal case, according to the Ohio Medical Board.

At a hearing in November 2020, then-Magistrate Judge George Limbert in U.S. District Court in Youngstown allowed Escobar to be released from federal custody after posting $20,000 bond, but Escobar had to give up the federal registration that allowed him to prescribe controlled substances, give up his passport and be on house arrest, according to Vindicator files.

Escobar voluntarily surrendered his DEA registration for those states when he was ordered not to prescribe medication while the criminal case was pending, according to the Ohio Medical Board.

Escobar’s superseding indictment alleges that from March 27, 2015, through Oct. 2, 2019, he performed inadequate patient physical and historical examinations; failed to establish evidence-based, objective diagnoses for patients’ pain; prescribed controlled substances without considering other treatment modalities; failed to follow Centers For Disease Control and Prevention guidelines that opioids are not routine therapy for chronic pain; failed to document in patients’ medical charts the patients’ response to treatment; and other offenses.

Escobar’s superseding indictment last year had fewer charges than the original 2019 indictment — 86 changes instead of 145 — but listed more victims, and in many cases fewer charges per victim, than the earlier indictment.

After Escobar’s indictment, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost called Escobar’s operation a “pill mill.”

The case was investigated by a number of agencies, including the Drug Enforcement Administration, FBI, Medicaid Fraud Control Unit of the Ohio Attorney General’s Office and the Ohio Board of Pharmacy.

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