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Dave Kolpack, Associated Press, Published October 28 2010

Former Grand Forks doctor to plead guilty

The lawyer for a former Grand Forks doctor accused in an Internet prescription fraud case has said his client didn’t know he was breaking the law and that he paid taxes on money he received for pill permits.

Enrique Rivera Mass, 56, has signed an agreement to plead guilty on a federal charge of conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance. Authorities say he illegally signed off on prescriptions for nearly

1.8 million pills that were sold online.

Rivera Mass became involved with Internet pharmacies several years ago in his native Puerto Rico and continued while he was working in North Dakota, according to court documents. Officials with the Center for Psychiatric Care in Grand Forks say Rivera Mass worked there from Feb. 16 to March 18, 2009, and was fired after his Internet pharmacy dealings were discovered. He has since returned to Puerto Rico.

Defense attorney Jose Barreto-Rampolla of San Juan, Puerto Rico, said in a telephone interview that Rivera Mass wasn’t clear about laws on Internet pharmacies.

“I think a lot of doctors are uneducated about that,” Barreto-Rampolla said. “But that’s not a defense.”

Prosecutors said most of the prescriptions were for weight-loss drugs, primarily phentermine, but also included sleep and anxiety medications, painkillers and the smoking cessation drug Chantix.

Rivera Mass issued prescriptions for customers in almost every state, the government said.

“He did not have access to medical records of the patients for review nor did he ever meet or talk to any patients prior to approval of an order,” prosecutors said in the plea agreement.

Rivera Mass faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. Prosecutors are asking that he surrender profits of about $100,000.

Barreto-Rampolla said Rivera Mass cooperated with the government and the fact that he paid income and Social Security taxes on his earnings indicates that he didn’t intend to be involved in a conspiracy.

“He also had his medical license revoked. He cannot work as a doctor. It’s a double whammy,” the lawyer said. “Hopefully the judge will be lenient enough to allow some constructive type of sentencing.”

U.S. District Judge Ralph Erickson scheduled sentencing for April 15.

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