A new federal indictment implicates a Kansas doctor and his wife in nine additional patient deaths, bringing to 68 the number of fatal overdoses the government contends are linked to illegal prescription writing and a moneymaking conspiracy at their clinic.
Dr. Stephen Schneider, his wife Linda, who is a nurse, and unnamed others are accused of scheming to illegally dispense prescription drugs and defraud health insurance programs and patients through their Haysville clinic. They also are accused of money laundering.
The couple are directly charged with contributing to 21 deaths.
U.S. District Judge Monti Belot told defense attorneys Friday to address any issues raised by the new indictment, unveiled Thursday, and answer pending motions so a new trial date can be set. A trial had been scheduled for March 22.
Defense attorney Lawrence Williamson said the government is trying to hold the Schneiders criminally responsible for all patient deaths — including deaths ruled suicides and patients who died while the couple was imprisoned.
"They have essentially tried to blame Dr. Schneider for any death that has happened to a patient," Williamson said. "We believe after we get a jury in to actually hear the facts surrounding the allegations we trust a jury is going to come to the right decision."
U.S. Attorney's office spokesman Jim Cross declined to comment other than to say "the government's case will be explained in full during trial."
The indictment paints a chaotic picture of the Schneiders' clinic, saying medical records often were missing or incomplete, patients were given prescription refills after previously overdosing on the same drugs and inexperienced physician assistants received little supervision.
Prosecutors also allege the doctor left blank pads of signed prescriptions and accuse his wife of forging her husband's signature on some scripts.
The Schneiders were arrested in December 2007 on charges they unlawfully prescribed drugs, overbilled for medical services and committed money laundering. The government alleges that from 2002 through 2007, Schneider Medical Clinic patients who died of drug overdoses accounted for 18 percent of all such deaths in Sedgwick County and surrounding areas.
The new indictment also includes three deaths that occurred while the Schneiders were imprisoned.
Among them is a 52-year-old amputee whose decomposing body was found Feb. 10, 2008, in his Wichita home. His last visit to the Schneider clinic was Jan. 3, 2008, when the clinic was struggling to stay open while the Schneiders were jailed.
An autopsy report showed the man died as a result of taking a very small amount of the pain medication Oxycodone at the same time as a muscle relaxant. The death was ruled accidental.
Williamson suggested prosecutors are overreaching.
"Them adding all this extra stuff in now represents the government's reality that their case isn't as strong as they thought it was and we believe the evidence is going to expose the government's ... lack of a case," Williamson said.