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Del Mar healthcare worker charged in drug diversion investigation

A year-long investigation by federal drug agents has resulted in criminal charges against several physicians and other healthcare providers — including a Del Mar woman — accused of writing bogus prescriptions or selling painkillers and other drugs on the black market.

Dubbed Operation Hypocritical Oath — a play on the Hippocratic oath taken by doctors — the investigation targeted dozens of healthcare professionals in California, Nevada and Hawaii, many of whom came under suspicion because records showed they were prescribing an unusual amount of narcotics, said Bill Bodner, deputy special agent in charge for the Drug Enforcement Agency in Los Angeles.

In the end, prosecutors filed charges against nine people, including four doctors. More than two dozen people identified by authorities as street- and wholesale-level drug dealers were also arrested, while about 30 medical professionals lost the right to prescribe drugs. During the investigation, agents confiscated 230,000 counterfeit painkiller pills and $3 million in cash and other assets, officials said Thursday, Feb. 21.

Among those arrested was Monica Ann Berlin, 41, who used to work at a doctor’s office in Beverly Hills but now works with a Del Mar-based company that offers pre- and post-surgery care.

She is accused of stealing a signature stamp and prescription pads belonging to the doctor who employed her and using them to write prescriptions for others, according to the complaint.

She is accused of forging at least 44 prescriptions from 2015 to 2017 that another person filled at pharmacies in Beverly Hills and Rancho Santa Fe. In exchange for the drugs, the buyer allegedly treated her to lavish dinners and gifts.

Berlin used coded language in text messages, describing the drugs as “candies” and “Tic Tacs,” authorities said.

-- Joel Rubin and Kristina Davis are reporters for The San Diego Union Tribune