Federal prosecutors do not object to guilty plea withdrawl

Aug. 30—Federal prosecutors told a judge they do not object to a McAlester doctor's motion to withdraw his guilty plea in five of the six indictments related to illegally prescribing and over-prescribing pain pills.

Court documents filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Oklahoma show Dr. Nelson Onaro, who owned and operated the Medical Clinic of McAlester, originally pleaded guilty last year to six counts of distribution of controlled substance and agreed to give up his medical license as part of a plea deal.

Attorneys for Onaro filed a motion to withdraw the guilty plea in July, stating that Onaro now has an affirmative defense after SCOTUS ruled 9-0 in Ruan v. United States.

Federal prosecutors told a judge that at they did not object to the change of plea in five of the six counts and asked the judge to grant the motion.

"The United States opposes the defendant's motion relating to his request to withdraw his guilty plea on count six," the prosecutors wrote in a motion. "Unlike counts one through five, in count six the defendant directly admitted that he presented a prescription to an individual 'with the understanding that C.L. would fill the prescription and bring the prescribed pills back to him for his personal use."'

SCOTUS ruled in June that once a defendant meets the burden of producing evidence that his or her conduct as a doctor was "authorized," the government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant knowingly or intentionally acted in an unauthorized manner.

"The Court categorically rejected the idea that physicians could be convicted as drug traffickers merely by showing they prescribed outside the usual course of practice, regardless of their intent," Onaro's defense attorney wrote. "The Court observed that such a standard would 'criminalize a broad range of apparently innocent conduct' and risk deterring doctors from using their best judgment to benefit patients."

Onaro's attorney also wrote Onaro would have never pleaded guilty to the charges if he had been able to sit in front of a jury and explain "regardless of some random California-based physicians' opinion" that he "genuinely thought he was treating his patients alleged pain by and through his training."

"They told him they were pain; Dr. Onaro then prescribed pain relieving medicine," his attorneys wrote. "Dr. Onaro did nothing but act as a doctor."

Onaro is accused of distributing fentanyl, oxycodone, morphine, oxymorphone, and Adderall "outside the usual course of professional practice and without a legitimate purpose" between January 2018 and May 2019.

Federal prosecutors also alleged Onaro wrote a prescription for 60 pills of Adderall to a staff member "with the understanding" that the staff member would fill the prescription and "bring the prescribed pills back to him for his personal use."

According to court documents, the combined converted drug weight for which Onaro is accountable for dispersing is 60.895 kilograms.

U.S. District Judge Ronald A. White will make the final decision on whether the court will accept the withdraw of plea.

Contact Derrick James at djames@mcalesternews.com