11/01/2007

Surgeon who replaced drug dealer's fingerprints pleads guilty

The Associated Press

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 medicine in neighboring Nogales, Mexico, faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison when he is sentenced Feb. 11.

A plea agreement requires Covarrubias to cooperate with prosecutors in their investigation of a Harrisburg-based drug ring. All other charges were dismissed.

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.

Covarrubias, 49, was indicted by a grand jury in Harrisburg for his involvement with the drug ring, which prosecutors said conspired to buy marijuana from Tucson, Ariz., 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, was still limping badly when he was arrested at the Nogales border crossing in September 2005 on a charge of money laundering.

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