Wichita A Kansas physician who allegedly operated a "pill mill" out of his Haysville clinic was charged Thursday with illegally prescribing drugs in a scheme that caused the deaths of at least four patients, federal prosecutors said.
Dr. Stephen J. Schneider, 54, and his wife, nurse Linda K. Schneider, 49, were arrested Wednesday, a day before a Topeka grand jury returned the 34-count indictment, U.S. Attorney Eric Melgren said.
The Schneiders are charged with one count of conspiracy, five counts of unlawful distribution of a controlled substance, 11 counts of health care fraud, 13 counts of illegal monetary transactions, and four counts of money laundering. They were being held in federal custody Thursday, with their first court appearance scheduled for 1:30 p.m. today in U.S. District Court in Wichita.
According to the indictment, 56 of Stephen Schneider's patients have died from accidental prescription drug overdoses in the last five years. However, the indictment alleges that only four deaths were directly caused by drugs Schneider's clinic prescribed and 11 deaths in which the drugs were a contributing factor, Melgren said.
Schneider is not charged with killing any patients.
"He called patients who died from accidental overdoses 'bad grapes,"' Melgren said. "They emphasized volume over quality of care."
The person who answered the phone at the Schneider Medical Clinic on Thursday said no one was available to comment about the indictment. Schneider's lawyer, David Schippers, did not immediately return a call seeking comment. Christopher Cole and Steven Day, lawyers who have represented Stephen Schneider in several medical malpractice lawsuits, also did not immediately return calls for comment.
If convicted of illegal distribution of controlled substances where a death or serious injury occurred, the Schneiders would face 20 years to life in prison. The other charges carry sentences ranging from up to five years for conspiracy to up to 20 years for health care fraud and money laundering.
The 65-page indictment alleges that the doctor and his assistants wrote unlawful prescriptions for narcotic painkillers, muscle relaxers and other drugs. Drugs mentioned in the indictment included fentanyl, methadone, morphine and oxycodone.
The indictment also states that Schneider was known as "Schneider the Writer," "the pill man" and "the candy man."
According to the indictment, Linda Schneider bragged when interviewing prospective employees that the clinic, with its large number of pain-management patients, wrote more narcotics prescriptions than any other medical clinic in the state.
The indictment also says that Schneider Medical Clinic operated seven days a week and was open for 11 hours daily. Patients were scheduled 10 minutes apart, and the clinic billed more than $4.24 million to health benefit programs, including Medicaid and Medicare, the indictment says.
The indictment alleges that the clinic did not change its practices despite patients' deaths and that it ignored warning signs that patients were abusing, diverting or becoming addicted to the medications.
The illegal monetary transactions and money laundering charges stem from alleged proceeds from the crimes. The transactions involved between $50,000 and $130,000 that were moved among accounts, the indictment says.