In yet another defeat for the government’s efforts to pursue doctors for drug dealing, a federal jury Thursday acquitted a physician and a pharmacist of dozens of charges that they operated a massive steroid ring.
Cries of joy filled the courtroom as a court clerk uttered the words “not guilty” 44 times as she read the jury’s long-awaited verdict. Friends and family members of Dr. Timothy Sigman and pharmacist Peter Del Toro grabbed each other, hugging, weeping and celebrating the end of what most described as a 2 1/2-year nightmare.
“Our life has been on hold,” said Joyce Del Toro, the mother of the 40-year-old pharmacist who holds a doctorate from the University of Florida. “It’s an incredible relief. We stayed faithful and expected a not guilty verdict. We are believers.”
“We put our trust in the Lord to pull us through this and he has,” said Warren Sigman, a retired engineer who, like other family members, supported his son and Del Toro by attending the trial every day since it began in early November.
Still, despite claims of confidence and divine intervention, the tension was palpable in the courtroom when the jury, which deliberated for more than 30 hours over six days, announced it had reached a verdict.
With federal prosecutors boasting a conviction rate of well beyond 90 percent, acquittals are rare.
Veteran attorney Richard Lubin, who represented Sigman, acknowledged as much. “We were in a bruising battle for three months,” he said. “It was like we were in a war.”
At the end, however, he said, the winning formula came down to a simple strategy: “We let the jury know what the truth was and the truth was these guys were not criminals.”
Attorney Tama Kudman said she was fueled by the belief that her client, Del Toro, who was also charged with illegally distributing oxycodone, was innocent. She summed up the fatal flaw of the government’s case in one word: “Overreaching.”
Del Toro, who owned Treasure Coast Specialty Pharmacy, and Sigman, 42, a Sebastian internist who grew up in Palm Beach County and now lives in Palm Beach Gardens, claimed they are passionate believers in the power of hormone replacement therapy to cure a variety of age-related ills.
Their attorneys argued they developed a cutting-edge practice that enabled them share their passion with people from throughout the nation. After looking at blood tests and medical histories, Sigman would talk to patients on the phone - often for more than an hour — to determine if anabolic steroids, testosterone and human growth hormone would cure what ailed them. Prescriptions were filled at Del Toro’s compounding pharmacy and delivered by mail.
Jurors and prosecutors, who had argued that the two former business partners were nothing more the drug dealers, declined to comment as they left the courthouse.
During the lengthy, complex trial, Assistant U.S. Attorney Ellen Cohen questioned the business practices of the accused. Instead of charging patients for consultations, Sigman, Del Toro and their sales associates shared the profits of drug sales.
Cohen called witnesses, including one of Del Toro’s former professors, who testified that his former student should have questioned the prescriptions Sigman was writing. Other medical experts claimed that the failure to have face-to-face examinations of patients fell below the standard of medical care.
Lubin and Kudman countered that federal agencies recognize the value of and even encourage so-called tele-medicine.
They also disputed testimony of five doctors who were indicted with Sigman, Del Toro and six others in August 2011 as part of a federal investigation dubbed Operation Juice Doctor 2. The five doctors, who pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy to distribute anabolic steroids, human growth hormone and oxycodone in connection with their work at anti-aging clinics in Palm Beach Gardens and West Palm Beach, worked with Sigman and Del Toro, prosecutors said.
Lubin and Kudman maintained their testimony was tainted because all are hoping to win favorable prison sentences in exchange for aiding the prosecution.
The government’s case stumbled last month when U.S. District Judge Kenneth Marra threw out charges against a 33-year-old Stuart woman, who was office manager at Del Toro’s pharmacy and also ran the day-to-day operations of the anti-aging clinic her boss ran with Sigman.
Even before that, the government was forced to drop roughly 40 charges against Del Toro’s father, a retired police officer. Likewise, multiple felonies against the owners of two Palm Beach Gardens anti-aging clinics were reduced to single misdeameanors and the four men were placed on probation.
The acquittals also came roughly six months after another federal jury in West Palm Beach refused to convict two pain clinic doctors of causing the overdose deaths of eight patients — charges that could have sent them to prison for life. Instead, Drs. Cynthia Cadet and Joseph Castronuovo were convicted of money laundering. Both are awaiting sentencing.
While buoyed by the verdict, both Del Toro and Sigman said they now have to rebuild their lives. Both lost their licenses to practice their chosen professions. Their offices were closed down. At least 25 people lost their jobs.
Once he gets his license back from the Florida Board of Medicine, Sigman said he plans to continue to practice hormone replacement therapy. “I wouldn’t want to practice medicine if I couldn’t practice preventative medicine by prescribing hormones, vitamins and alternate therapies,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to go back to treating the problem not the person.”
Del Toro, the brother of an assistant chief at the Port St. Lucie Police Department, said his shuttered compounding pharmacy followed the same protocols of those throughout the nation. Both he and Sigman thanked the jury for seeing through what they called the false claims made by the prosecution.
“There was no justice today. The jury prevented an injustice,” Del Toro said.