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Doctor tied to 68 overdose deaths found guilty

/ Source: The Associated Press

A federal jury Thursday found a Kansas doctor and his wife guilty of conspiring to profit from illegally prescribing painkillers to dozens of patients who later died, in a case highlighting medical treatment of chronic pain sufferers and prescription drug abuse.

Dr. Stephen Schneider and his wife, Linda, are charged in a 34-count indictment with unlawful dispensing of drugs, health care fraud and money laundering. Jurors convicted them of a moneymaking conspiracy prosecutors say was linked to 68 overdose deaths. They were directly charged in 21 of the deaths.

During their eight-week trial, prosecutors told jurors the Schneiders defrauded insurers and patients by carelessly writing prescriptions for potent, addictive painkillers to people with severe pain but also to drug abusers who feigned symptoms.

The Schneiders also were found guilty on five counts of unlawfully writing prescriptions and 11 health care 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 Schneiders were taken into custody. No date has been set for sentencing.

Schneider, 56, operated the Schneider Medical clinic in the Wichita suburb of Haysville. Linda Schneider, 52, is a nurse who worked as the clinic's office manager.

The government accused Dr. Schneider of being little more than a drug dealer who did not carefully monitor cases, prescribed excessive dosages and wrote prescriptions so freely he became known among some patients as the "Candy Man." Prosecutors said the couple did not alter their practices even after getting notices their patients were turning up in emergency rooms and at the morgue following overdoses.

Testifying in his own defense, Schneider said he only was trying to help and had been duped by some painkiller addicts. He told jurors he never meant to hurt or defraud anyone. His wife did not take the stand.

Defense attorneys argued not only that the federal government was meddling in doctor-patient relationships, but said prosecutors had inflated the number of deaths attributed to Schneider's prescriptions by including patients who died while the Schneiders were in jail, patients who committed suicide, those who took illegal drugs and clinic patients he never treated or had treated months earlier.

Defense attorneys also contended it is impossible to know for sure whether the patients died from overdoses or other serious cardiac problems because the local medical examiner, at the time, did not do internal examinations whenever a toxicology report showed high drug levels.