Dec. 20, 2007, WICHITA, KAN. - A Haysville, Kan., physician was charged today with illegally distributing prescription drugs to his patients, directly causing the deaths of at least four of them.
Stephen J. Schneider, 54, and his wife, Linda K. Schneider, 49, both of Haysville were arrested Wednesday evening. On Thursday, a federal grand jury in Topeka returned a 34-count indictment. They will make an initial appearance at 1:30 p.m. Friday in federal court in Wichita.The charges include:
- One count of conspiracy
- Five counts of unlawful distribution of controlled substances resulting in serious bodily injury and death
- Eleven counts of health care fraud
- Thirteen counts of illegal monetary transactions
- Four counts of money laundering.
"Dr. Schneider is charged with unlawfully prescribing large quantities of potentially dangerous narcotic medications," said U.S. Attorney. "At least four of his patients died from accidental overdoses that investigators believe were directly caused by medications he prescribed. In the past 5 years, a total of 56 patients he treated died from accidental prescription drug overdoses."
A 65-page indictment describes Schneider Medical Clinic, 7030 S. Broadway in Haysville, as a "pill mill" open 7 days a week. Schneider and his assistants unlawfully wrote prescriptions for Fentanyl, Methadone, Morphine, Oxycodone and other narcotic medications. Scheduling patients 10 minutes apart, the clinic billed more than $4 million to health benefit programs. Linda Schneider, the manager of the clinic's business operations, often urged the clinic's staff to work faster, the indictment says.
From 2002 to 2007, at least 56 of Schneider's patients died of accidental drug overdoses, the indictment says, but Schneider and his assistants did nothing to alter their practices. They ignored red flags indicating that patients were abusing, diverting or becoming addicted to the medications, the indictment says. And they continued prescribing pain killers, muscle relaxers and other medications outside the course of usual medical practice and not for legitimate medical purpose.
Four patients died as a direct result of Schneider's actions, the indictment says, including:
- Patricia G., 49, who died June 20, 2005, from an accidental overdose of Hydrocodone, Oxycodone and Benzodiazepines.
- Eric T., who died April 22, 2006, from an accidental overdose of Hydrodocone, Oxycodone, Methadone and Soma.
- Robin G., who died May 15, 2007, from Fentanyl intoxication.
- Katherine S., 46, who died Nov. 25, 2003, from an accidental overdose.
During a different time period for which comparable information is available - 2003 through 2006 - 51 of Schneider's patients died of accidental drug overdoses while the greatest number of comparable deaths associated with any other doctor was 9 - and that doctor was treating AIDS patients.
THE DEATH OF PATRICIA G
In the case of Patricia G., the indictment says she began going to Schneider's clinic in April 2003 after she was injured in a car accident. She complained of pain in her knees. Over a period of months, she received a variety of medications even though she reported increasing pain and exhibited signs of depression and drug addiction. She received prescriptions for controlled drugs including Hydrocodone (Lortab), Oxycodone and Benzodiazepines (Xanax) from the Schneider clinic.
On June 16, 2005, she was admitted to Via Christi Medical Center for a suspected overdose of prescription drugs. Via Christi notified the Schneider clinic of the incident the next day.
On June 18, 2005, Patricia G. returned to the Schneider clinic and received prescriptions for Lortab, Oxycontin, Oxycodone and Xanax. Two days later, on June 20, 2005, she died of an accidental overdose of prescription medications including Hydrocodone (Lortab), Oxycodone and Benzodiazepines.
THE DEATH OF ERIC T
In the case of Eric T, the patient suffered a serious back injury in a car accident in 1994. He first visited Schneider's clinic on March 14, 2003. Without obtaining a sufficient medical history, performing a sufficient physical exam or performing a neurological exam, Dr. Schneider diagnosed Eric T. with degenerative disk disease of the lower spine. He prescribed Hydrocodone (Lortab) and Soma (a muscle relaxant).
For the next three years, Schneider prescribed escalating dosages of controlled drugs. Schneider continued the prescriptions although Eric T's condition showed no improvement and there were signs Eric T was becoming addicted and abusing the drugs.
On April 19, 2006, Dr. Schneider wrote Eric T prescriptions for Hydrocodone (Lortab), Oxycodone/APAP (Percocet), Methadone and Carisprodol. Three days later, April 22, 2006, Eric T. died of an accidental overdose of Hydrocodone, Oxycodone, Methadone and Carisoprodol. He was 46 years old.
DEATH OF ROBIN G
Robin G. suffered from migraine headaches when she first visited Schneider's clinic on July 13, 2004. She reported having headaches two or three times a month. With only a minimal physical examination and little information on medical history, Dr. Schneider prescribed Fentanyl (Actiq) and Morphine (Avinza).
For almost three years Schneider's clinic prescribed increasing doses of Actiq, Avinza and Valium to Robin G. On May 11, 2007, she received prescriptions for Fentanyl, Valium and Lidocaine
Four days later, May 15, 2007, Robin G died of Fentanyl intoxication. She was 50 years old
Another patient, Katherine S., 46, died Nov. 25, 2003, which is cited in Count 5 of the indictment and in page 1 of attachment 1.
HEALTH CARE FRAUD
According to the indictment, Schneider's clinic received more than $4.24 million in payments from health care benefit programs including Medicaid; Medicaid's HMO, First Guard; Medicare; Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Kansas; and Preferred Health Systems.
Schneider submitted false and fraudulent claims to health care benefit programs, the indictment says, including:
- Claims for a provider seeing patients on days when the provider was not present at the clinic.
- Claims for prescribing medications that were not provided for legitimate medical purposes.
- Claims that were "upcoded" to make it appear a physician had seen a patient when in fact an assistant saw the patient.
- Claims for laboratory services that the clinic did not provide.
ILLEGAL MONETARY TRANSACTIONS, MONEY LAUNDERING
Seventeen counts of the indictment focus on the proceeds of the alleged crimes. In transactions involving $50,000 to $130,000, the Schneiders are alleged to have moved money among accounts at Valley State Bank, the Credit Union of America, Intrust Bank, Bancomer Bank in Acapulco, Mexico; Union Bank of California; and various individuals including themselves, Sara Levin de Gonzalez and Lee Atterbury.
The indictment also seeks the forfeiture of all proceeds from the crimes. Real and personal property listed in the forfeiture count includes 7030 S. Broadway, 224 W. 79th South in Haysville, Kan.; bank accounts at Valley State Bank, Bank of America, the Credit Union of America and Bancomer Bank of Acapulco, Mexico; a 2004 Hummer H2, a 1978 Ford Mustang, a 2002 Nissan Frontier, a 1971 Ford Mustang, a 1995 GMC Jimmy, and two boats.
If convicted, the Schneiders face the following penalties:
- Conspiracy: A maximum penalty of 5 years in federal prison and a fine up to $250,000.
- Illegal distribution of controlled substances: If death or serious bodily injury occur, not less than 20 years and not more than life.
- Health care fraud: If death or serious bodily injury results, a maximum penalty of 20 years and a fine up to $250,000.
- Unlawful monetary transactions: A maximum of 10 years in federal prison and a fine up to $250,000.
- Money laundering: A maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison and a fine up to $250,000.
The following agencies worked on the investigation:
- Heath and Human Services
- Kansas Bureau of Investigation
- Drug Enforcement Administration
- Kansas Attorney General's Medicaid Fraud and Abuse Division
- Federal Bureau of Investigation
- U.S. Postal Inspection Service
- Social Security Administration
Assistant U.S. Attorney Tanya Treadway and Assistant U.S. Attorney Alan Metzger are prosecuting.
As in any criminal case, a person is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty. The indictment filed merely contains allegations of criminal conduct.