An agreement Monday between federal prosecutors and defense attorneys will send an emergency room doctor arrested on drug charges last week off-island for pretrial treatment.
Dr. Armondo Zabala, a physician at St. Croixs Juan F. Luis Hospital, was arrested Friday on charges of cocaine possession and allegedly obtaining the prescription drugs Xanax and Lorcet through fake prescriptions or by writing prescriptions for individuals who would then give him some or all of the drugs. Zabala was charged with conspiracy to distribute the drugs by fraud and misrepresentation.
At a detention hearing Monday in District Court, U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeffrey Resnick approved sending Zabala off-island for drug treatment before his as-yet unscheduled trial. Assistant U.S. Attorney Denise Hinds and public defender Patricia Schrader-Cooke agreed that Zabala would enter a drug-treatment center within seven days. Zabala would remain in treatment through a trial and sentencing.
Zabala was released on $1,000 bail into the custody of his lawyer, Michael Sanford. After some confusion, it was determined that Zabala would stay with Sanford and his family until the doctor leaves island for treatment.
"It looks like attorney Sanford is providing service above and beyond the call of duty," Resnick said.
The judge ordered Zabala not to use any narcotics, contact any of his co-workers at the hospital or prescribe any medications.
"That would be a serious violation," Resnick said. "If you see (co-workers) on the street, cross the street. You are to stay away from them."
As of Monday evening it was unclear what would happen to Zabalas license to practice medicine in the territory. Calls to Juan F. Luis Hospital CEO Thomas Robertson were referred to Dr. Claudius Henry, who didnt return calls Monday. Health Department officials also couldnt be reached for comment.
The Health Department is the licensing body for doctors in the territory, according to an individual familiar with the local medical community. In cases where physicians have been accused of misconduct, a licensing board will likely hear the allegations in due process procedures to determine whether revocation is warranted.
In some cases, doctors may continue to practice but have their hospital privileges revoked.
A hearing to determine where Zabala will go for treatment is scheduled at 9:30 a.m. Friday in District Court on St. Croix.