Plastic surgeon pleads guilty in fingerprint-removal case
Nov. 1, 2007 10:24 AM
HARRISBURG, Pa. - A plastic surgeon who replaced the fingerprints of an alleged drug dealer with skin from the bottom of his feet pleaded guilty Thursday to a federal charge of harboring and concealing a fugitive.
Dr. Jose L. Covarrubias, a U.S. citizen who lived in the border town of Nogales, Ariz., and practiced his medical specialty in neighboring Nogales, Mexico, faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison when he is sentenced Feb. 11.
The plea agreement approved by U.S. District Judge Yvette Kane requires Covarrubias to cooperate with prosecutors in their ongoing investigation of a Harrisburg-based drug ring.
All other charges were dismissed as part of the deal, including a conspiracy count and a count of being an accomplice and accessory after the fact to marijuana dealing.
The charges stemmed from surgery Covarrubias performed on co-defendant Marc George, 42, of Jamaica. The doctor replaced George's fingerprints with skin from his feet to help him avoid apprehension, authorities said.
The doctor's attorney, Stephen G. Ralls, of Tucson, said Covarrubias had "a lapse of judgment." The doctor had no previous criminal record, "not even a traffic ticket," Ralls said.
Covarrubias, 49, had been indicted by a grand jury in Harrisburg for his involvement with the drug ring, which prosecutors said conspired to buy marijuana from Tucson and elsewhere and distributed more than a ton of it in central Pennsylvania, Philadelphia and other areas between 2004 and 2006. He was arrested in May while trying to cross the U.S.-Mexico border.
George, an alleged courier of drugs and cash for the drug ring, spent several weeks in a hotel in Mexico recuperating from the surgery. He was still limping badly when he was arrested at the Nogales border crossing in September 2005 on a charge of money laundering.
Covarrubias was returned to Adams County Jail in Gettysburg, where he has been held since May. In June, Kane refused to release Covarrubias on bond because there was too large a risk that he would flee across the border before he could be tried.
George and another defendant in the case also being held at the jail, said Assistant U.S. Attorney William Behe.