Defense: Grand jury remains empaneled in Dr. Gilberto Sanchez investigation

By Jennifer Horton

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - In less than a month, Dr. Gilberto Sanchez has gone from a practicing physician to a criminal defendant.

"He recognizes he has some things to prepare for," said defense attorney Tommy Spina. "His life has been turned upside down."

The federal government charged Sanchez with prescribing and dispensing controlled substances that were not medically necessary over the course of 4 years, and reportedly running a pill mill out his practice on Atlanta Highway in Montgomery, Alabama.

Federal agents arrested Sanchez at his practice on Aug. 1, executing search warrants at the office and his home in Montgomery County.

On August 16, Sanchez voluntarily surrendered his state medical license and certificate of qualification.

"I think that's the right thing to do under these circumstances," Spina said.

More charges could be forthcoming for Sanchez. Spina told WSFA 12 News the grand jury that indicted Sanchez remains empaneled, something Acting U.S. Attorney Clark Morris would neither confirm nor deny.

"They are obviously document-intense cases," Spina said. "That takes time for the government to gather and sift through, and digest and to make decisions on prosecutorial charges. There is a grand jury that is empaneled. It is active, it is an ongoing investigation. They have to hear the evidence to make that determination. Again, not a guilt or innocence determination."

Sanchez is one of hundreds of doctors under investigation for illegal distributions of painkillers and addictive opioids. Spina suspects the 'War on Drugs' from the 1980s has transitioned to a 'War on Opioids,' citing a new defendant in the drug war – a professional defendant versus a street dealer.

"Instead of prosecuting the street guy standing on the corner with a bag of pills, they are going after the physicians, the pharmacists, and the pharmacies," Spina said. "They are going after the assets the individuals have obtained throughout the career. It's not a secret, Jeff sessions has talked openly about it."

For Spina, the key question what he defines as a 'War on Opioids' is whether the standard for medical need is subjective or objective.

"The physician's obligations are to do what is medically necessary, to provide treatment in a doctor – patient relationship," Spina said. "If that includes dispensing of a pain medication for the benefit of a patient, so be it. Where the line gets fuzzy, is when someone is making that determination who is not the physician."

Ultimately a jury could get the opportunity to make that decision but likely no time soon. Sanchez is scheduled for a pretrial hearing in September.

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