RACINE — A Racine man accused of providing cocaine to a Caledonia doctor-turned federal informant allegedly claimed he could hook the physician up with “high-quality cocaine ... straight from Colombia,” an investigator testified Friday.
Only problem, Special Agent Neil McGrath said, was during the first undercover drug buy, Racine resident John P. Chapman allegedly brought in a third-party drug provider. And the substance purportedly sold to undercover confidential informant-dermatologist Steven Armus wasn’t high quality, wasn’t from Colombia and wasn’t even cocaine.
“When he came to us, there were probably four or five people that he told us that had offered to get him cocaine. He said Chapman had offered to get him high-quality cocaine,” McGrath testified. After learning the substance sold wasn’t coke, Armus “didn’t say (to Chapman) find me some real cocaine. He just said ‘we got ripped off.’ ”
McGrath, a special agent with the Wisconsin Department of Justice’s Division of Criminal Investigation, testified Friday in what was the third hearing on a defense motion seeking to have the cocaine charges against Chapman tossed out of court. Defense attorney Patrick Cafferty filed a motion in August seeking to have those charges tossed out, citing outrageous government conduct.
Chapman wants the case dismissed because he contends this doctor-patient confidentiality was breached by his dermatologist, Armus.
Armus, 52, is one of the founders of Great Lakes Dermatology.
Chapman, 27, was charged in June with three felony drug counts. Armus allegedly began treating him almost six months prior for various skin conditions.
McGrath testified Friday that Armus signed the deal to work as a confidential informant on Feb. 14, 2012.
It was during February 2012 that Armus reportedly told the investigators he knew Chapman as his patient, McGrath said.
A member of the Metro Drug Unit testified last month that Armus made three controlled drug buys from Chapman in Racine County.
McGrath testified Friday that he talked with Armus about keeping Armus’ medical care of patients separate from his undercover work — specifically, discussions about drug deals. McGrath told Cafferty he didn’t want to encounter Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act issues, such as HIPAA violations.
Chapman’s first medical appointment with Armus came last January. Armus treated Chapman for a rash and other skin conditions, according to court and medical records.
Cafferty questioned McGrath during Friday’s hearing about whether he knew Armus lied to a friend, Craig Leipold, to obtain the phone number for the Leipold family’s nanny, Danny Johnson, and if Armus then told McGrath or other investigators that Armus then lied to Johnson. Armus testified last month that he emailed Leipold about wanting to speak with Johnson because of acne medication that Armus said he had prescribed for Johnson between 2003 and 2005.
Cafferty asked if McGrath would have had concerns had he known about Armus’ medical ruse and lie.
“Yeah, that causes concern,” McGrath testified Friday. “Because he’s approaching him (Danny Johnson) as a doctor in the phone call. It concerns me.”
Armus pleaded guilty Sept. 6, 2011, in U.S. District Court in Milwaukee to two of the eight criminal charges against him in a multi-county, multi-state cocaine distribution ring. Armus pleaded to conspiracy to distribute cocaine and possession with the intent to distribute cocaine, according to the plea agreement. In exchange for Armus’ cooperation, federal prosecutors agreed to recommend a lighter sentence for him in his drug case.
Racine County Circuit Judge Charles Constantine set another hearing for March 27. Cafferty said another hearing is needed because a witness he intended to call to testify on Friday instead was attending a relative’s funeral.
A status conference is scheduled for March 15 in Armus’ federal cocaine case.