- Jane Musgrave Palm Beach Post
Roughly three years ago, Peter Del Toro was facing 295 years in prison.
Today, the 44-year-old Jensen Beach father of two is shopping for office space to open a law practice.
“Technically, I’m not supposed to be here. I’m supposed to be dead. Well, I’m supposed to be in prison and that’s being dead,” Del Toro said of the drastic turn his life has taken since February 2014, when the word “not guilty” rang out 36 times in a federal courtroom in West Palm Beach.
Jubilant that the jury acquitted him and Jupiter internist Dr. Timothy Sigman of dozens of drug charges for allegedly operating a multi-million-dollar steroid ring, Del Toro knew he didn’t want to return to his former life.
With a doctorate in pharmacy from the University of Florida, he could have reopened his once bustling Treasure Coast Specialty Pharmacy, which was shut down by government agents when they accused him and Sigman of being high-tech drug dealers for men who were looking for the fountain of youth.
But he said that during the years he spent fighting the accusations, he became fascinated with the law and the impact it has on people’s lives.
Three days after the verdict, he began applying to law schools. He got a full scholarship to St. Thomas University School of Law in Miami. He graduated top in his class. In December, he choked back tears as he gave the valedictory speech to fellow graduates.
Last week, he returned to court, where family members, Sigman and other friends watched as Martin County Judge Darren Steele issued an oath, swearing him into the Florida Bar.
The journey from pharmacist to accused criminal to lawyer has been a strange one, he admits.
The son of a retired cop and brother of an assistant police chief in Port St. Lucie, Del Toro grew up in a religious family, surrounded by law enforcement officers and health care workers. He was taught to be self reliant and to help others.
But when he learned federal prosecutors wanted him to spend the rest of his life in prison, he felt powerless.
“I knew how scared I was,” he said. “I couldn’t even help myself.”
He watched his West Palm Beach lawyers — first Richard Keith Alan II and later Tama Kudman. While he helped them understand the complex rules pharmacists must follow, they also were juggling other complex cases that were equally important to others entangled in the criminal justice system.
“There wasn’t a field they couldn’t help someone in,” he said. Their stretch, he said, was enormous.
As a pharmacist, he worked to help people. But he said he realized his abilities were limited. Practicing law, he said, was a way to help people in all aspects of their lives.
Attorney Richard Lubin, who represented Sigman, and Kudman said they have never had a former client go to law school. “None, none, none,” Lubin said. But neither voiced surprise by Del Toro’s odd trajectory.
“He’s an extremely intelligent guy and had a firm grasp of the legal issues,” Lubin said.
Both Del Toro and Sigman endured a grueling three-month trial, the lawyers said. They had to listen as federal prosecutors tried to paint them with the same black brush that tarred others in an operation that agents dubbed, “Operation Juice Doctor 2.”
Del Toro became a target when agents learned his compounding pharmacy filled more steroid prescriptions than any in the nation, said Kudman, who represented him at trial. Sigman was targeted because he embraced tele-medicine in his off-hour hormone replacement practice instead of seeing patients in an office.
The two joined forces and realized unexpected success in the medical-pharmaceutical field, Sigman testified, because both believed hormone replacement therapy was the key to keeping men healthy as they aged.
Kudman said prosecutors tried to twist the law to convince a jury that what Sigman and Del Toro were doing was illegal. But it didn’t work. “It was a full exoneration,” she said.
The experience could have soured Del Toro. “He had his life burned down by the government,” Kudman said. “Instead of sitting at home saying, ‘Woe is me,’ he has completely rebuilt himself.”
Del Toro acknowledged it hasn’t been easy. During his first year of law school, he lived mostly in Miami while his wife and two school-aged children remained in Jensen Beach. After that, he commuted 220 miles round trip to law school several times a week so he could remain at home.
He said he was lucky. His wife and children and other family members supported him. He credited higher powers as well. “God has a plan. He plucked me out of pharmacy and put me in the law,” he said. “Of course,” he added with a laugh, “he plucked me out of the government’s net, too.”
Ready to embark on a new career, Del Toro said he hopes to combine his knowledge of health care and the law to help doctors and others who run afoul of ever-changing regulations and those facing criminal charges. His experience he said will help him. “I can tell a client, I’ve been there,” he said.
And, in an equally odd twist, he won’t be alone.
His former pharmacy technician, Jaclyn Rubino, will be by his side. The 34-year-old mother of three, who was charged with Del Toro and Sigman, sat through nearly two months of the trial before all charges against her were thrown out by U.S. District Judge Kenneth Marra. Like Del Toro, her experience peaked her interest in the law. She is now studying to be a paralegal.
“It was a total game-changer,” Del Toro said, looking at the bright side of his odyssey through the court system. “Of course, it could have gone the other way.”View full experience