This is part three of three. This report about a Florida doctor, Monster on the Beach, deals with sensitive issues of violence, opioid addiction and sexual abuse. Take care if you are triggered by any of these topics. Call 2-1-1 Brevard for help if you need counseling.
Michelle Jones was planning her suicide for a few months. At the root of her despair wasn’t her divorce or the difficult relationship with her mother, with whom she now lived.
It was that she could no longer afford her monthly visits to Dr. John Gayden’s medical office in Indialantic for her opioids.
It was May 27, 2011, a little more than two years after shed first started seeing Dr. Gayden for pain management due to a back and wrist injury she suffered working at an electronics plant. She took Lortabs for a few months before switching to Oxycodone because the Lortabs caused her liver damage.
There was never any discussion with Dr. Gayden on how to get her off the drugs.
The 150 30-mg Oxycodone pills prescribed monthly were no longer enough. He was also prescribing 90 Xanax pills every month for her as well.
After a while, Michelle was merely taking the drugs to stave off the horrible sickness that came with withdrawal.
“It no longer became a form of pain management,” she said in federal court. “It was a point of addiction and it was very costly. I did not want to go through that terrible detox and I could not afford the money to keep going to see him.”
Michelle went to see Dr. Gayden on May 25, 2011. Two days later, she swallowed a handful of Oxycodone pills and went to sleep.
Shed hoped it would be over.
But she woke in the hospital with several tubes leading to machines helping to keep her alive. A few months later, after she fully recovered, two law enforcement agents stopped in to see her. They wanted to know if she would be interested in helping take down the doctor responsible for her misery.
Her answer was yes.
No pain? No matter for Dr. Gayden
August 2011 would prove a very pivotal month in law enforcements efforts to stop Dr. Gayden.
On August 8, Michelle equipped with recording equipment returned to see Dr. Gayden. Now, two things happened, or rather didnt happen during her visit. Dr. Gayden never asked where she had been the previous three months.
Also, he never looked that she’d circled zero on the pain level chart.
Missing for three months? No pain? It didnt matter.
Gayden wrote her a prescription for 150 30-mg Oxycodones and 120 Xanax.
Michelle met with police around the corner and gave them the prescriptions. The same script and same result took place on Sept. 6 and Oct. 5.
On Aug. 9, 2011, just one night after Michelles first undercover visit to Dr. Gayden, FDLE Agent Jason Kriegsman and Melbourne Det. Brian Wical knocked on the doctors Indian Harbour Beach townhome door. His 18-year-old girlfriend answered and let the police in. There was a large quantity of marijuana inside.
It gave police an opening. They arrested the doctor.
As they interviewed his girlfriend, she recounted her story about the cell phone: how she had once asked Dr. Gayden for 75 cents and he instead gave her money to buy a phone while she loitered near his office. She told police that he provided her with Oxycodone, marijuana, alcohol and engaged in a sexual relationship with him while she was still 17 years old.
Dr. Gayden was charged with unlawful sex with a minor as well as delivery of Oxycodone and marijuana by a person over the age of 18 to a minor.
This was the beginning of the end for him.
But it would take three years of depositions, court hearings and preparation before a trial could be set. Then before facing a jury, Dr. Gayden struck a deal with prosecutors. They would not go forward on the sex charge and he would plead guilty for marijuana possession with intent to sell with adjudication being withheld. This is a special type of sentence in which the judge orders probation but does not formally convict the defendant of a criminal offense. The judge sentenced him to three years of probation.
It hardly sounds like a big victory.
But it meant Dr. Gaydens medical career was over. By February 2015, Gayden was forced to relinquish his medical license.
He spent the next year and a half spinning signs for Firehouse Subs, a well-known sub shop in Melbourne. He also sold car wax at gas stations. There were rumors that it was for show, that Gayden was biding his time and had socked away a fortune.
Special Agent Jason Kriegsman didnt buy it.
And you know there’s rumors that he had offshore accounts, this, that, but I believe he didn’t have a penny, he said. And it was kind of confirmed when he was doing those things at the end.
Gayden’s attorney at the time, Brynn Brito also said she believed Gayden was penniless by this point.
He sort of was this once very powerful, brilliant person that people referred to or sought for advice or medical care and you know, I dont think he was really there anymore, she said. I know it was a very sad fall from grace.
Sad ending for Korrianne Lundstrom
But Gayden still had yet to pay for the lives he destroyed.
On Sept. 18, 2016, Gayden was federally indicted on drug charges just beating the five-year statute of limitations after investigators painstakingly went through Gayden’s patient records, surveillance, victim interviews and undercover video and audio taken from his office.
In the end, federal prosecutors felt as if they finally had enough to win a conviction against him. He was charged with dispensing the narcotic oxycodone outside the usual course of professional practice and for no legitimate medical reason.
Gayden’s attorney on the earlier marijuana charges, Brinn Brito, said she found the charges distasteful.
I think I would have more respect for this if it was actually done statewide and more even handed, she said. Why not go after the pharmaceuticals that created these drugs? Instead they want to kick John Gayden when hes down, when hes not even a doctor anymore.
During the federal trial, prosecutors called Michelle, the woman who had tried to kill herself, to testify. They also called a few other patients, like a young mother from Palm Bay named Stephanie Whitehouse.
She was not addicted to drugs when she went to see Dr. Gayden for the first time.
Stephanie testified that Dr. Gayden never explained to her how addicting the drugs could be or any alternate form of treatment or how to wean off the drugs. Even when the already slight woman lost 30 pounds and her teeth started cracking from the drugs, he offered no change in treatment.
Stephanie continued battling the demons of her addiction until her death in 2022.
The prosecutors also referenced Korrianne Lundstrom throughout the trial. But she never got the chance to testify. Korrianne overdosed in 2013. Her mother Linda said she will remember the tragic circumstances until her last day.
Korrianne had moved to Jacksonville to babysit for her sister’s baby. Getting out of Brevard and away from her friends would be good for her, Linda thought.
But, when she was there she found people to buy from, Linda said, adding that her drug use essentially put an end to her babysitting job. Despite the drug use, Korrianne was back in school and had found a job at a Texas Roadhouse, the same chain she had worked for back home in Brevard.
Linda found her a room to rent and helped Korrianne get her drivers license reinstated.
A few weeks later, Linda and her husband took a much-anticipated and long overdue Mediterranean cruise. A few days into the cruise Linda received a call from Korrianne that she had been arrested.
We werent happy campers at all but we knew where she was, Linda recalled. We said shell get clean in there, shell get better and then well come home and well start over again.’
But unbeknownst to Linda, a family friend bailed Korrianne out thinking he was doing a favor.
Three days later, June 11, 2013, Korrianne was dead of an overdose.
Linda acknowledges Korrianne had drugs in her system but said her death was a combination of the drugs along with pneumonia and a partially collapsed lung.
At Gayden’s trial, prosecutors also mentioned Nicholas Giles and Stewart Fraser of Melbourne Beach as two more victims no longer with us. Both men were patients of Dr. Gaydens and both overdosed and died.
Gaydens federal defense attorney Michael Ryan objected to the governments attempt to connect Gayden to the overdose deaths.
Dr. Gayden was not responsible for their deaths, Ryan said. He was not charged with that. They tell you that Dr. Gayden was this notorious pill mill and yet they barely get the charging in under the statute of limitations. I dont get that.
On June 22, 2018, Gayden was found guilty of seven counts of distributing oxycodone outside the course of professional practice and for no legitimate medical reason.
Gaydens defense was basically an attempt at mitigation. Maybe there was a reason why he acted the way he did, something that might cause the jurors to feel empathy for him.
His lawyers brought in an expert, neuropsychologist Robert Cohen from Orlando, who had examined Gayden on several occasions. And he testified that Gayden suffered from something known as behavioral variant frontotemporal dementia.
Cohen described the disease as being slow moving and insidious and typically starts with a personality change for a person in their 50s or 60s. Cohen said Gaydens strange behavior can be traced to 2005 where there were several documented incidents that seemed out of the blue including a neglect of hospital responsibilities, not checking patients, not talking with his colleagues, missing numerous meetings and offering the same excuses over and over again.
There was also the start of a sense of general apathy.
Cohen said there seemed to be a lot of hospital intervention to try and get Gayden back on track during that time.
Cohen went on to say that Gaydens IQ was significantly lower than your average doctor. It was in the mildly impaired stage. He added that several other tests of executive function of Gayden’s frontal lobe and temporal lobe were both well below expectation. One of the more troubling tests was in Gaydens ability or inability to generate words. For example, he was given one minute to list as many words as he could that began with the letter F, he managed five.
Cohen added that the tests have built in safeguards to catch people that might be faking it in order to achieve a certain diagnosis.
So, after the tests, Cohen ordered a PET scan a positron emission tomography, which basically shows how well the brain is using sugar. Cohen said the scan revealed several areas of Gaydens brain not metabolizing sugar which is one of the signs of Alzheimers dementia.
Cohen said other signs that Gayden was suffering from this form of dementia included impulsivity like his wild spending habits as well as atypical sexual behavior such as excessive sexuality in somebody who wasnt like that before.
The jury did not buy it and Gayden was found guilty on all counts.
On Sept. 10, 2018, Judge Carlos Mendoza held the sentencing and he didn’t hold back. The judge referred to Gayden as a monster four different times.
In fact, during sentencing, Mendoza bemoaned the fact that Gayden was not charged with the deaths of those who overdosed.
So he’s not responsible for their death, he started. He’s not the whole reason for the problem. But how many times are we in this courtroom when defense attorneys are representing people who are addicts and they come in here and say the government is piling on. This person is an addict and he’s trying to support his or her habit. That’s why they were doing what they’re doing, because they’re an addict, and we shouldn’t criminalize addiction. And how many times do you have a frustrated person argue in the courtroom, if we could only get to the person, the problem. Let’s get to the problem.
I am firmly convinced that we have the problem in front of us now.
I lose a lot of sleep and I go through a lot of stress in a lot of these cases trying to figure out what’s the most appropriate and fairest outcome in these disputes or these circumstances. And it should be stressful.
This is not one of the more difficult ones. I stand by my statement that I believe your client is a monster, but not just a monster, an arrogant monster. And we are doing society a service by making sure there’s absolutely no way he can ever do what he did again.
And good riddance, as far as I’m concerned,” the judge said.
John Gayden was sentenced to 19 and a half years in prison. He will be 83 if and when he is released.
ContactTorresatjtorres@floridatoday.com. You can follow him on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter@johnalbertorresor on Facebook atfacebook.com/FTjohntorres.
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