South Carolina

SC doctor who traded addictive drugs for sex convicted in federal court

Surveillance video shows Ronald Hargrave and a woman with whom he traded illegal prescriptions for sex, according to evidence presented in federal court in Charleston.
Surveillance video shows Ronald Hargrave and a woman with whom he traded illegal prescriptions for sex, according to evidence presented in federal court in Charleston. Provided

A South Carolina doctor who practiced emergency medicine in Moncks Corner has been convicted by a federal jury in a case where he traded oxycodone and Xanax, two widely abused and addictive prescription drugs, for sex.

Ronald Hargrave, 60, will be sentenced at a later date by U.S. Judge Margaret Seymour, who presided over Hargrave’s trial last week in Charleston.

In one transaction, Hargrave gave a woman $300 in cash and $3,200 worth of prescription oxycodone and Xanax after she had sex with him in a back room at a walk-in medical clinic in Moncks Corner, according to evidence in the case.

Hargrave, 60, could get up to 20 years in prison.

The jury, which deliberated for only 90 minutes, found that Hargrave had intentionally distributed a controlled substance outside the bounds of professional medical practice and without a legitimate medical need, according to instructions given the jury by the judge.

According to evidence in the case, alert health care workers in separate instances — first in 2015 at a Columbia Walgreens pharmacy and, second, at the Berkeley County clinic in March 2017 where Hargrave worked — played a major role in bringing his misdeeds to the attention of authorities.

The major charges involved the 2017 incident at the Moncks Corner clinic where Hargrave worked. His colleagues noticed that a young woman came into the clinic after it was closed and spent an hour with him alone in a back room. They called police, but the woman had left the clinic by the time the officers showed up.

Several days later, the woman — who testified for the prosecution at Hargrave’s trial — came to the clinic as a patient complaining of a sore throat. Hargrave gave her prescriptions for oxycodone, a pain medication, and Xanax, a drug used to treat anxiety.

Those visits prompted Drug Enforcement Administration investigator Adam Roberson, who testified at the trial, to start an investigation. Hargrave was fired by the clinic when the investigation began.

A surveillance video of Hargrave and the woman in the clinic’s front office was played for the trial jury. The woman, who according to evidence at the trial had a long history of drug addiction, was not charged.

In the 2015 Columbia incident, a pharmacist at Walgreen’s on Devine Street became suspicious of a woman who came to the pharmacy and tried to use prescriptions Hargrave had written from his Moncks Corner clinic to get drugs, according to evidence at the trial.

That encounter led the pharmacist to report Hargrave to the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control, which monitors sales of addictive prescription drugs. Hargrave’s case was examined by the S.C. Board of Medical Examiners and he was disciplined by the board, according to board records.

The case was prosecuted by federal assistant U.S. attorneys Matt Austin and Winston Holliday. Defense attorneys in the case were Scott Bischoff II and Christopher Adams.

According to his state medical license, Hargrave is a 1984 graduate of the University of North Carolina school of medicine. He was licensed to be a doctor in South Carolina in 1985.

According to state medical board records in the 2015 Walgreens case, Hargrave failed in numerous ways to properly diagnose and prescribe highly addictive drugs to a patient. His prescriptions for high doses of opioids were sometimes “extremely dangerous” because they put the patient at risk of “respiratory depression and suicide,” the board found.

Although the board found that Hargrave engaged in “dishonorable, unethical or unprofessional conduct that is likely to deceive, defraud or harm the public,” the board gave Hargrave one of its lightest punishments — a public reprimand along with a requirement to take some board-approved refresher courses on record keeping and prescribing. It could have suspended his license or revoked it altogether.

The board could have fined him up to $25,000 but it only assessed Hargrave $400 to help pay for the state investigation of the charge.

Upon conviction, Hargrave had to forfeit his medical license.

Prosecuting drug distributors is a high priority for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in South Carolina.

“We trust our doctors to first do no harm,” said U.S. Attorney Sherri Lydon, quoting an ancient Greek physicians’ pledge attributed to Hippocrates.

“In recent years, Charleston County has distributed a higher concentration of opioid pain pills than any other county in the nation, and in 2017, the county had more opioid overdose deaths than any other county in the state,” Lydon said.

Lydon said Hargrave’s conviction shows her office “will vigorously prosecute medical providers who ignore the law — and their ethical obligations — by illegally distributing the deadly drugs fueling this epidemic.”

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