Lake Worth doctor indicted on murder charges in 3 overdose deaths
Dr. Sergio Rodriguez had been investigated in connection with illegal pain pill prescriptions
West Palm area doctor Sergio Rodriguez. (PBSO, Handout August 7, 2008)
A Lake Worth pediatrician has been formally charged with three counts of first-degree murder in the overdose deaths of three men to whom he prescribed prescription pain medication, prosecutors said Friday.
A Palm Beach County grand jury on Thursday indicted Dr. Sergio Rodriguez, 54, on 18 charges ranging from first-degree murder to trafficking and selling various prescription painkillers. Rodriguez is already in jail without bond, having been arrested and charged with racketeering in 2008 in connection with the illegal distribution of prescription drugs.
The new indictment accuses Rodriguez of prescribing the synthetic, opiate-based painkiller oxycodone to Robert Bowes, 25, of Port St. Lucie; Robert Peterkin, 22, of Palm Bay, and Robert Miller, 23, of Palm City, all of whom overdosed and died in early 2008.
Palm Beach County State Attorney Michael McAuliffe said the case is "unusual," but his office did handle the 2005 case of Jupiter doctor Denis Deonarine who was acquitted on a first-degree murder charge on a patient overdose case.
"Unfortunately you'll find perpetrators in every walk of life and in every station in our community. This reflects that. If you're going to harm others, this office can build a case with the help of our law enforcement partners and we're going to try to hold you accountable," he said.
Prosecutors presented these charges to the grand jury at a time when "pill mills" are proliferating and more doctors are nabbed writing illegal prescriptions. Just last week, the FBI raided three Palm Beach County pain clinics that authorities say were catering to out-of-state patients who would use or resell the drugs at huge profits back home.
Peggy Briede said her son, Robert Peterkin, drove down twice with a friend to Rodriguez's office west of West Palm Beach before daybreak for the drugs. She said nothing was medically wrong with her son that made pain medication necessary.
"He died two days after he went to [Rodriguez] the second time," said Briede, of Palm Bay in Brevard County. "I've been waiting for two years for this day."
Peterkin, a commercial fisherman from Connecticut, came to Florida for the funeral of his cousin, who overdosed on prescription medication in late 2007. Three months later, on March 21, 2008 he met the same fate.
The investigation into Rodriguez's activities began after a woman told authorities that he was trading oral sex for prescriptions drugs.
Authorities say the pediatrician distributed pain pills through his practice, the Children Plus Health Center, west of West Palm Beach. According to state records, Rodriguez also held staff privileges at hospitals in Hollywood and Pembroke Pines and at Hialeah Hospital in Miami-Dade County.
His medical license expired Jan. 31 and is listed as delinquent.
An undercover Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office detective was able to get prescriptions for oxycodone, methadone and Xanax, according to court records. Those records say that Rodriguez never even examined the detective for or diagnosed him with pain.
Mike Driscoll, resident agent in charge for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement's Palm Beach County office, said the agency doesn't anticipate more charges against Rodriguez, despite other deaths they have tied to his practice.
"There are other deaths throughout Florida, of individuals between the approximate ages of 17 and 29 that are deceased partially as a result of the prescriptions that he gave them," Driscoll said.
Briede plans to celebrate the life of the late son she called by his middle name, Ryan, during a memorial by the dock where he learned how to fish as a boy on March 21 — the second anniversary of his death. She said she will be a little less heavy-hearted and has high hopes that justice will be served.
"Ryan tried to help everybody; he just had a heart of gold," his mother said, "We just remember the good times … I'll see him again someday."
Staff Researcher Barbara Hijek contributed to this report.
Brian Haas can be reached at bhaas@SunSentinel.com or 561-243-6633