Doctor charged with murder in overdoses
Cops say physician was dealing, not healing
BY MARK KIESLING and BILL DOLAN
Times Staff Writers
GARY -- People would come from as far as Wisconsin and Michigan to wait in line outside Dr. Jong Bek's clinic in the heart of one of Gary's most dangerous neighborhoods.
They would arrive before the office opened at 8 a.m., signing in with a man parked in a blue Pontiac Grand Am outside the office at 2247 Broadway and taking a number like they were at a deli.
Authorities said the lure was that Bek, who had the office for at least 12 years, provided his clients with a smorgasbord of drugs, using his physician's license to write prescriptions with little or no examination beyond that of the patient's wallet.
His office routinely was filled beyond capacity, and sources said it was not unusual for Bek to clear $5,000 or $6,000 daily in cash, which he demanded of his clients. He sometimes would "examine" as many as three people at one time, court documents state.
Bek, 61, of 4250 N. Marine Drive, Chicago, was charged Tuesday with two counts of felony murder and two counts of dealing in a controlled substance. He also was charged with federal drug and money laundering counts.
His office manager, Richard Faloona, was charged federally with conspiracy to distribute controlled substances.
Lake County Prosecutor Bernard Carter said the murder charges arose from the deaths of two men -- from Jackson Township and Westville -- who traveled to Bek's office to buy prescription drugs, then died after mixing those drugs with heroin.
The felony murder statute does not require that Bek deliberately killed either of the two, but that he performed an illegal act that resulted in or contributed to their deaths, Carter said.
On March 2, Shawn Rivera, 18, of 637 E. 950N, Jackson Township, was brought into Porter Memorial Hospital, dropped off by a group of people who said he had overdosed on heroin, officials said. He died that day.
On March 9, Roger Muckway Jr., 46, was found dead in his mobile home at 173 Birch Parkway, Westville. Muckway, who had been dead for several days, was surrounded by drug paraphernalia and apparently had been injecting heroin. Rivera's wallet was found on his coffee table.
Police said Muckway had more than 90 bottles of controlled substances in his trailer. All were written between January 2001 and February 2002, and all were written by Bek, police said.
Between Dec. 15 and Feb. 26, police said Rivera filled 24 prescriptions for 562 tablets of various controlled substances at the 55th Avenue Pharmacy, 5490 Broadway, Merrillville, the last filled four days before his death.
Muckway's autopsy showed he died of a heart attack brought on by consumption of heroin (morphine) and diazepam, also known as the depressant Valium. Rivera's autopsy showed he died of a combination of heroin (morphine) and alprazolam, also known as the depressant Xanax.
Diazepam and alprazolam were just two of the many drugs Bek allegedly filled for Muckway and Rivera, and also for a number of undercover Gary and Indiana State Police officers who had been investigating Bek since April 1999.
Another client of Bek, Donald Joey Cox, died of a drug overdose in Elkhart County on Feb. 11, but Bek has not been charged with his death. A bottle of Xanax, prescribed by Bek and filled at the 55th Avenue Pharmacy, was found alongside Cox's body, officials said.
Sources near the investigation said there may be as many as 10 more overdose deaths linked to Bek.
The combination of heroin, which breaks down into morphine once inside the body, with the prescription drugs provides a longer, more intense drug experience, according to Roger Maickel, a retired pharmacology and toxicology professor from Purdue University.
Such a combined dose would cause respiratory distress and possibly death, he said.
Carter said the investigation had stalled after he decided there was not enough evidence that Bek was writing bogus prescriptions. It did not take off again until Gary Police Chief Garnett Watson pushed for it after taking office in January.
"If you come in to a doctor and say your back hurts, he has the right to write you a prescription," Carter said. "He has a medical license, and certainly has that right. A doctor is required to treat pain complaints. We had to walk very carefully."
"It was never simple," Watson said. "We don't want to just make an arrest, we want to win the case. They have worked their butts off to get this done."
Carter said it is the first time in Indiana a doctor has been charged with homicide for writing bogus prescriptions, and is one of the first in the nation. Chief Deputy Prosecutor Barbara McConnell said the office has been in contact with authorities in Florida, which recently successfully prosecuted a doctor for manslaughter.
There, Dr. James Graves, 55, was convicted of manslaughter, racketeering and unlawful delivery of a controlled substance after four people died after abusing controlled substances from prescriptions he wrote between March 1999 and April 2000.
U.S. Attorney Joseph Van Bokkelen said Bek had several bank accounts and owned more than four luxury condominiums in Chicago that are being seized by the government on allegations they were purchased with illegal drug profits. He said Bek "was no different than a street corner drug dealer. His only difference was he had a medical license."
That license is expected to be lifted Thursday at an emergency hearing of the Indiana Medical Licensing Board in Indianapolis.
Michael Minglin, counsel for the Indiana Attorney General's office, said Tuesday he will ask the Indiana Medical Licensing Board to suspend Bek's license pending the outcome of the criminal charges against him.
The licenses of the two pharmacies that honored Bek's prescriptions also are under scrutiny, officials said.
Minglin said state police Tuesday also seized thousands of prescriptions, allegedly written by Bek, from the 55th Avenue Pharmacy at 5490 Broadway in Merrillville, and Washington Drugs, at 2480 Broadway. Officials will look into whether the pharmacists who filled them should face criminal charges or professional discipline.
A federal affidavit alleges Beck also would direct his customers to Timm's Pharmacy, at 1701 Broadway. The affidavit states that pharmacy closed after its federal permit expired three years ago.
Minglin said Bek avoided detection by state regulators of his operation by continually writing new prescriptions rather than refills for his repeat customers.
"We would notice if someone was getting refills within short periods, but new prescriptions can be filled immediately without question," he said. "If we can prove a pattern of prescriptions being honored in quantities that violate general therapeutic purposes, then we could file class D felony charges."
Minglin said the state also could close down those two pharmacies by revoking their state permits, "but we understand those pharmacy provide a necessary service to their community, and we will probably proceed against the pharmacists rather than the business if we can build a case."
"A vast majority of the pharmacies in this county would not touch his prescriptions," Carter said.
The typical office visit was described by undercover detectives in a 31-page affidavit filed Tuesday with the charges, and it explained how a new "client" would pay $60 and an established client would pay $50 to see Bek, but beforehand would visit with Faloona to explain what kind of drug they were seeking.
Faloona would coach them on how to fill out a client form, then hand a client a list of controlled substances that were available. When Bek would ask an undercover agent about her health, she said, Faloona would answer for her, and Bek would write her a prescription without any examination.
Shortly before 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, agents of the Indiana State Police and the Gary police tactical unit accompanied by federal agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Food and Drug Administration swept down on Bek's office, arresting more than 20 people who were waiting to see the doctor.
One woman carrying a toddler was brought out by a SWAT officer carrying a submachine gun; others were handcuffed and placed face down on the concrete sidewalk. Most were released, but several were taken into custody on unrelated outstanding warrants.
The doctor was brought out by Gary police Lt. Roger Smith, who had been tapped by Watson to head the Gary portion of the investigation, and driven away in a red police Ford Crown Victoria. Faloona was brought out a short time later.
what do you guys think? he is currently being held without bond and i believe they froze all of his assests. and yes, they suspended his license but i think it is only for 90 days. they said that over 1 million dollars have gone thru his hands over a couple of years, but he swears he only made 200,000 last year. they are also investigating other drug od deaths and thinking with adding more charges.