SAN FRANCISCO - A former UCSF surgeon plead not guilty in federal court today on charges that he unlawfully prescribed opioids to a San Francisco woman.
One of those alleged victims, Danielle Pattillo, was found dead in her apartment last June under what investigators are calling suspicious circumstances.
Dr. Christopher Owens was arrested in Indiana on July 11th, as part of the largest health care fraud enforcement action in the Department of Justice's history.
The 50 year old walked briskly out of the federal courthouse Monday, avoiding any questions.
The former vascular surgeon entered a not guilty plea on the drug charges, 36 counts of distributing oxycodone.
"My wife was one of the people that he was writing these fraudulent prescriptions to," said Paul Pattillo, who flew in from Georgia to attend court proceedings.
35 year old Danielle Pattillo worked at the Veteran's Affairs Medical Center with Owens. She mysteriously died this past spring in what investigators initially thought was a mere drug overdose.
"She had become involved with Chris. She was found deceased and he was the last person who was with her," said Pattillo, who was in the midst of a divorce with Danielle.
Owens was immediately placed on investigatory leave, UCSF fired him five months later after he was booked on local drug charges. But those charges with the San Francisco District Attorney's office never stuck.
"I just think this shows that the *federal* courts are going to take this seriously and start cracking down and they need to," said Pattillo.
DEA agents arrested Owens as part of the nationwide crackdown on fraudulent opioid prescriptions spearheaded by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
"We have a person in a position of power who's contributing by providing very very strong opiates to someone who is not one of their patients," said Alaina Percival, Danielle's friend.
Friends say Pattillo admitted that she suffered physical and emotional abuse in her relationship with Owens, who got her hooked on opioids as a way to control her.
"And she told me, you know, if I don't get out, I'm not going to live," cried Percival. "I'll never be able to get over that. We were best friends since we were kids...I was supposed to have her for another 30 or 40 years at least."
"[It was] incredibly upsetting, skin crawling to see somebody so awful but incredibly heartened to see that maybe we'll finally get some justice for Danielle, " said Meghan Tedesco, another friend and former co-worker.
Neither Owens nor his attorney would comment on the case.
Meanwhile, a local investigation is still underway into the circumstances surrounding Pattillo's death.
Owens' next court appearance is set for September 12th.