Warrants describe darker side of doctor
July 20, 2005 -
To some of his patients, Dr. William Coburn was a man who would go out of
his way to help people, working late into the night and taking patients' phone
calls on his cell phone.
To law enforcement, he was a doctor who supplied narcotics to drug addicts,
accepting everything from guns to electronics as payment, keeping late hours
to avoid being caught.
Coburn, 72, has pleaded not guilty to charges he traded prescription drugs
for a gun and illegally possessed firearms. He was arrested June 30 after his
Lynn Road medical office and Thousand Oaks home were searched and six weapons
Since his arrest and the subsequent charges, patients have spoken up on his
behalf. But the search warrants used to carry out the arrest, which were
unsealed by court order this week after a request by The Star, paint a grim
picture of a man who has practiced medicine in the community for more than 30
The warrants reveal that the investigation into Coburn began two years ago,
with allegations he had been overprescribing medications.
Those claims are also being reviewed by the Medical Board of California.
The tips led detectives with the Ventura County Sheriff's Department to
search Coburn's offices in March 2004.
Part of the investigation also involves allegations from a Thousand Oaks
pharmacy that Coburn had been overprescribing medications for certain patients.
Last month, detectives received more information on Coburn's practices from
an informant who was helping expose him for "the betterment of the community
and also for monetary compensation," according to the search warrant
The informant, who is not named in the documents, claims to have been
typically prescribed 100 Vicodin and 100 Xanax pills by Coburn for pain. The
informant said he had been addicted to painkillers since 1996 after a knee injury.
He had been a patient of Coburn's for about three years and had met with him
about 30 times, according to the documents.
For each visit, the man would reportedly pay a $75 consultation fee, then
give $200 to Coburn in his back office. If the informant didn't have money, he
gave the doctor items ranging from tools to guns to get prescription
medications, he told detectives.
The informant claimed to have traded a .357-caliber magnum, two rifles, two
television sets and tools engraved with his initials for drugs, either from
the office or in prescriptions.
The man also told detectives Coburn would see patients as late as 3 a.m.
Detectives wrote in the documents that the late hours were a way to dodge
attention from other doctors, building managers and law enforcement.
Leading up to the search of Coburn's offices and home, the informant set up a
late meeting with the doctor to trade a gun for prescriptions. He first
called Coburn on his cell phone with detectives nearby.
He told the doctor he had a "piece" and had called to find out if the doctor
wanted it. The informant described the gun as a "9 mm SIG" and said he wanted
100 Norco, a painkiller, and 100 Xanax to "keep him going," according to the
documents. The men agreed to meet at 9 p.m. June 30.
The night before his arrest, detectives watched as patients arrived and left
from the parking lot of Coburn's office from 8 p.m. until about 1:30 a.m.
It appeared the patients would make a phone call from the parking lot, either
from cell phones or a pay phone, before going in. Some patients appeared to
be under the influence of medications, detectives wrote in the documents. One
woman had no shoes and was wrapped in a blanket.
The informant also arrived that night and told detectives he had traded tools
for Norco and Xanax. He said the doctor had asked about the gun and the men
would do the exchange the following day. He told detectives the doctor did
not examine him.
Although the exchange of the gun is not reported in the documents, a 9 mm
SIG-Sauer was among the weapons recovered from the doctor's office June 30.
Detectives also seized another 9 mm Glock pistol, a .22-caliber Derringer
pistol, a Colt .357-caliber revolver and a Winchester rifle. From his home,
detectives seized a handgun, a plastic container of suspected methamphetamine and
Demerol and Vicodin.
Coburn's son, James Coburn, was subsequently arrested on suspicion of
Ventura County Deputy District Attorney Ryan Wright, who is prosecuting the
case, declined to comment for this story.
Coburn's attorney, Kevin DeNoce, said he is waiting to review key evidence
before commenting on the allegations. But he did say Coburn had a reputable
medical career up until the charges surfaced.
"A man's distinguished medical career should not be defined by one mere
allegation that has yet to be proven," he said.
News of Coburn's arrest prompted some patients to rally to his defense.
Suzanne Chapin of Westlake Village said if the charges against Coburn are
true, he would have been acting with good intentions.
"If Dr. Coburn were to have taken firearms from a patient, he would have had
a moral and ethical reason, and pure and sound reason for doing so," she
She said Coburn might have done so to protect someone.
"Part of his ministry as a physician is to help people in any way he can,
especially those who cannot afford healthcare," she said. "Some people might
misconstrue that. In my opinion, I believe he would have had pure motives in
order to do something like that."
Chapin, who works as a nurse, said she has seen the doctor off and on the
past 10 years, and he has always been careful to not overprescribe medications.
"I could never see him giving medications out in an inappropriate way," she