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October 8, 2010

Feds urging LWOP sentence for doctor and wife involved in (extreme!?!) health care fraud

This AP article, headlined "Feds seek life sentences for doctor, wife convicted in overdose deaths case," details that the feds are seeking the harshest possible federal sentence in for notable (white-collar?) offenses.  Here are the interesting particulars:

Prosecutors have asked a federal judge to put a Kansas doctor and his wife behind bars for life for operating a clinic linked to dozens of patient overdose deaths.

In a court document filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Wichita, prosecutors asked Judge Monti Belot to impose life prison sentences on Dr. Stephen Schneider and his wife, Linda Schneider.  Four of the most serious counts the Schneiders were convicted of carry minimum sentences of 20 years behind bars, and prosecutors asked Belot to impose those sentences consecutively.  Their sentencing is Oct. 19.

A federal jury in June found the Haysville couple guilty of unlawfully prescribing drugs, health care fraud and money laundering following a nearly eight-week trial.  A federal jury convicted them of a moneymaking conspiracy that prosecutors linked to 68 overdose deaths.  The government noted in its filing that jurors found the Schneiders' conduct resulted in serious bodily injury to 14 individuals, and the deaths of 10 patients.

"If this were a serial murder case, instead of a drug dispensing and health care fraud case, there would be no question that life sentences should be imposed," Assistant U.S. Attorney Tanya Treadway wrote. "The Court should consider the dire consequences of the defendants' crimes, regardless of the type of crimes they committed."

Attorney Lawrence Williamson, who represents the doctor, said the defense does not believe the couple should be sentenced to life in prison and plans to ask the judge for the minimum sentence he can give them.  He noted the 57-year-old doctor had never been in trouble with the law before this case.  "There is undisputed evidence that he was trying to help people and I think that is an important factor that we hope the court takes into consideration," Williamson said.

In addition to conspiracy, the Schneiders also were found guilty on five counts of unlawfully writing prescriptions and 11 health care fraud counts.  They also faced 17 money laundering counts.  Stephen Schneider was found guilty on two of those counts; Linda Schneider was found guilty of 15 money laundering charges.  The government contends losses for clinic services and prescriptions was more than $20 million, with some 93 insurance programs and more than 500 patients defrauded....

Linda Schneider, 52, is in a tougher position than her husband at sentencing because not only was she convicted of more money laundering counts, but she also has a previous felony conviction for fraud. Prosecutors also recorded threats she made against her former defense attorney and Treadway while imprisoned before trial....

To support a life sentence, prosecutors argued in their filing that the Schneiders victimized a large number of vulnerable patients.  The government also contended the couple organized an extensive criminal activity, noting there were other "criminally responsible coconspirators."

There are so many punishment theory and practice issues packed into this case, I may need to turn it into an issue-spotter for a future exam. I find especially interesting and notable that at trial the "jurors found the Schneiders' conduct resulted in serious bodily injury to 14 individuals, and the deaths of 10 patients," which in turn has emboldened the prosecutor at sentencing to suggest the defendants are essentially serial killers.

UPDATE:  I just noticed this interesting report from The BLT, headlined "Prison Term Vacated, Doctor in South Carolina to be Freed," about a significant new development in an older, but similar sounding, federal case.  Here are excerpts:

Ronald McIver had spent more than five years in prison, serving a 30-year term for his alleged role in man's drug overdose. McIver's lawyers at DLA Piper, including Peter Zeidenberg, serving pro bono, successfully convinced a federal district judge in South Carolina to vacate the prison term earlier this year.

In post-conviction litigation, McIver’s defense attorneys presented new information about the case, compelling the presiding judge set a new sentencing hearing....  Judge Henry Floyd of the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina sentenced McIver, who is 66 and suffering from advanced prostrate cancer, to time-served.  McIver, who has a life expectancy of less than a year, is expected to be released soon, Zeidenberg said....

In the post-conviction litigation, lawyers for McIver argued the death of the man, Larry Shealy, was not a result of a drug McIver prescribed.  Zeidenberg said Shealy likely died of heart disease.  Floyd vacated two counts against McIver that made up the 30-year prison term.

Prosecutors, who had been seeking a 10-year prison term, could decide to challenge Floyd’s ruling on appeal in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit. An assistant U.S. attorney, William Watkins Jr., was not immediately reached for comment.

October 8, 2010 at 07:34 AM | Permalink

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Comments

Yet lawyers will charge elder abuse when doctors are not aggressive enough in suppressing pain in nursing homes and in hospitals.

Again, I would like to see innocent defendants counterattack any lawyer seeking to interfere with clinical care. If one has a large practice of terminal patients in great pain, it is difficult to find just the right management. I suggest giving up trying to comply with the infinitude of lawyer created rules, and just using clinical judgement. Then counterattack these officious intermeddlers. To deter. Doctor friends just feel so grateful when one of these witch hunts ends, they are not thinking of any counterattack. However, it is a duty to counterattack to protect clinical care from the land pirates.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Oct 8, 2010 3:18:52 PM

Sounds like yet another power-crazed prosecutor making people pay dearly for putting her to the annoyance of a trial.

I'll bet most folks would be astonished to learn "money laundering" in cases like this probably amounts to little more than depositing fee-payment checks in the doctor's bank accounts.

The best gifts prosecutors ever got from Congress were vague, sweeping RICO statutes that enable them to dress up mere accusations of wrongdoing in the language of organized crime and drug cartels...and carry draconian prison sentences suitably fitting for mob bosses and drug lords.

And if RICO's back-breaking potential penalties fail to coerce a plea agreement (which is hardly ever the case), then the backs do indeed get broken.

Posted by: John K | Oct 9, 2010 12:20:21 PM

John: We disagree often, but not here. If you are a lawyer, what do you think about going after prosecutor and judge personally? Start with total e-discovery of all personal and work computers. If you find child porn in the federal computer, refer to the FBI for a proper investigation. Then do total opposition research, including ex parte (outside of court) contact. With every questionable utterance, file an ethics complaint, so that the enemies of clinical care are in a perpetual state of being investigated.

When this is proposed to white collar defense lawyers, they go nuts. They do not want to inconvenience the enemy in any way. The clien is easy to replace if not pleased. The prosecutor is the source of his employment and totally valuable. If one gets the rare lawyer to approve of it for the prosecutor, any hint of acting against the judge is unacceptable.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Oct 10, 2010 5:57:44 PM

I'm all for holding prosecutors accountable for the profound harms they inflict on the innocent and wrongly accused...but of course it will never happen.

Criminal-justice/prison industries are too lucrative for corporate jailers and the legislators they keep on the payroll.

Posted by: John K | Oct 11, 2010 10:27:00 PM

It is part of lawyer culture, and mere Supreme Court opinion. It can be reversed with the passage of laws.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Oct 12, 2010 9:26:44 AM

Thank you for the article on the doctor and his wife in which the Feds are seeking a life sentence.
I recently tried a similar case in which I represented the wife. The govt only charged the couple with trafficking drugs for no legitimate medical purpose. The wife worked as a medical assistant. A registered nurse and a license practical nurse nor the pharmacists were charged in my case.

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