A jury in Charleston federal court found a former Mount Pleasant doctor guilty on drug charges after prosecutors said he traded opioid painkillers and anti-anxiety medications in exchange for money and sex.
Dr. Ronald Hargrave, 60, whose sentencing date has not been set, faces up to 20 years in prison in addition to a fine of up to $1 million, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office. He was found guilty Monday of distribution of controlled substances after a four-day trial. Hargrave has been licensed to practice medicine in South Carolina since 1985, state records show.
"We are devastated by the verdict," said Chris Adams, an attorney for Hargrave. "Dr. Hargrave was a great doctor. The prescriptions were fully consistent with the medical histories of the patients and were for real medical issues. We will definitely appeal."
The doctor drew the attention of investigators in 2015 after he accompanied a woman to a Columbia pharmacy, around midnight on a Saturday, to fill a Xanax prescription. The pharmacist, however, thought it was unusual for an out-of-town doctor to be with a patient in that setting and refused to provide the drugs.
In a separate case from 2017, the doctor levied painkillers for sex with a patient in his office.
That same year, in March, Hargrave met with a female patient at a Moncks Corner medical clinic where he practiced.
On March 7, 2017, the two met at a medical clinic in Moncks Corner where he worked. That night, Hargrave had sex with the woman at the clinic. In exchange, she received $300 cash and a promise to receive four prescriptions for controlled substances, including Xanax and Oxycodone. On March 10, the female presented herself as a patient at the clinic, and Hargrave issued her the painkillers. He was fired within hours. The reasons for writing the prescriptions were all non-medical.
According to documents from the S.C. Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, the state's Board of Medical Examiners publicly reprimanded Hargrave in September 2017 after he was found to have improperly prescribed controlled substances. Though he faced paying a penalty as high as $25,000, the board assessed a $400 fee and ruled the doctor was to take pre-approved professional training courses, according to the documents.
“We trust our doctors to first do no harm,” U.S. Attorney Sherri Lydon said in a statement. “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. As Dr. Hargrave’s guilty verdict shows, the U.S. Attorney’s Office will vigorously prosecute medical providers who ignore the law — and their ethical obligations — by illegally distributing the deadly drugs fueling this epidemic.”
Correction: This story has been revised to clarify that just one woman alleged she and Dr. Ronald Hargrave had sex in exchange for him prescribing controlled substances.