WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas doctor and his wife were given decades-long prison sentences Thursday for their convictions in a moneymaking conspiracy linked to 68 drug overdose deaths, with the judge saying the couple was motivated purely by greed.
Dr. Stephen Schneider and his wife, Linda, pleaded for mercy as a judge reassessed their original sentences following a ruling in another case by the U.S. Supreme Court.
But prosecutors argued the couple didn’t deserve mercy, saying they created a clinic permeated by fraud that cost numerous lives, created many addictions to prescription pain medication and cost government health care programs millions of dollars.
“Even here today, I don’t think you appreciate all the harm you caused — the deaths, addictions all … to get money,” U.S. District Judge Monti Belot told the couple. “If there was any decent medical care, it pales in comparison.”
The judge sided with prosecutors by again sentencing the doctor to 30 years in prison and his wife to 33 years. The same punishment was imposed after the couple was convicted in 2010 of conspiracy to commit health care fraud resulting in deaths, unlawfully prescribing drugs, health care fraud and money laundering.
The couple’s clinic in the Wichita suburb of Haysville had as many as 10,000 patients. Their lawyers argued during a 2010 trial that the Schneiders were overwhelmed and that they listened to drug makers that pushed potent narcotics.
The 62-year-old doctor and his wife, who is 57, had argued that they helped people with chronic pain, even as the doctor saw up to 100 patients a day and left pads of pre-signed prescription forms for staff when he was out.
Before the couple was sentenced, Julie Wilburn, who said her mother died because of medication prescribed by the doctor, told the judge the hardest thing she’s ever had to do was tell her grandparents about her mother’s death.
“He will never understand the hurt he has caused my family,” she said.
Larry Wall, an attorney who represented the families of eight dead patients and an addicted patient, said his clients were pleased with the sentence and “appreciate this sad story, this avoidable tragedy, is finally over.”
The couple’s lawyers said after the hearing that they plan to appeal.
“We were hoping for a more lenient sentence, but that is to be expected,” said Kari Schmidt, who represented Stephen Schneider.
The judge ordered the new sentencing after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that a victim’s drug use must be the actual cause of death to impose the harshest punishments under the federal Controlled Substances Act. In light of the ruling, Belot threw out some of the couple’s sentences in June.
But the high court’s ruling made little difference Thursday, because at least one death-related count the judge left intact carried a sentence of between 20 years and life in prison.
“I am truly sorry if we hurt the community in any way with what we did or what we didn’t do,” Stephen Schneider told the judge before he was resentenced. “And I just hope that you have mercy on us.”
Linda Schneider said she wakes up every morning and tries to make a difference in the lives of her fellow inmates. She said she prays to one day make a difference to people in the community.
The judge later noted that individuals involved in some drug cases he’s handled since the couple was convicted were once former patients of the Schneiders’ clinic.
“It is almost impossible for me to overstate the harm that these people caused,” Belot said. “Sure they are sorry here today, but it is what they did then.”
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