A variety of pills with different medications. Photo via Pixabay

A San Diego doctor who unlawfully prescribed more than 78,000 prescription pills as part of a wide-ranging “pill mill” scheme was sentenced Monday to 18 months in federal custody.

Egisto Salerno, 76, whose medical practice was located on El Cajon Boulevard in the College Area, pleaded guilty in January to signing prescriptions for 78,544 pills without a legitimate medical purpose and outside the usual course of professional medical practice, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Prosecutors said Salerno and co-defendants took part in a scheme to issue prescriptions that were signed for patients he did not see, including prescriptions written for people who were dead or in jail when he supposedly examined them.

Seven co-defendants have been convicted and all but one has been sentenced.

“While the vast majority of doctors prescribe medications in compliance with federal laws, there will always be doctors like Egisto Salerno who seek profit over their patients’ best interests,” said DEA Special Agent in Charge John W. Callery.

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Salerno’s co-defendants recruited homeless people — who he wrote prescriptions for — to pose as patients.

Co-defendants would transport the “patients” to pick up the pills at pharmacies, than provide them with cash in exchange for the medication, prosecutors said. The pills were then sold in San Diego and a pharmacy in Mexico.

Prosecutors said Salerno provided an undercover federal agent with six hydrocodone prescriptions on six visits to his office, but then issued another prescription in the agent’s fake name on a date he did not visit Salerno’s office.

Salerno also signed a progress note for the purported visit with the patient.

“Corrupt doctors who blatantly ignore their medical oath and the best interests of their patients to illegally distribute opioids in the midst of a nationwide opioid crisis will face severe consequences,” said U.S. Attorney Robert Brewer.

— City News Service