Prosecutors have asked a federal judge to put a Kansas doctor and his wife behind bars for life for operating a clinic linked to dozens of patient overdose deaths.
In a court document filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Wichita, prosecutors asked Judge Monti Belot to impose life prison sentences on physician Stephen Schneider and his wife, Linda Schneider. Four of the most serious counts the Schneiders were convicted of carry minimum sentences of 20 years, and prosecutors asked Belot to impose those sentences consecutively.
Their sentencing is Oct. 19.
A federal jury in June found the Haysville couple guilty of unlawfully prescribing drugs, health care fraud and money laundering following a nearly eight-week trial. A federal jury convicted them of a moneymaking conspiracy that prosecutors linked to 68 overdose deaths.
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The government noted in its filing that jurors found the Schneiders' conduct resulted in serious bodily injury to 14 individuals, and the deaths of 10 patients.
"If this were a serial murder case, instead of a drug dispensing and health care fraud case, there would be no question that life sentences should be imposed," Assistant U.S. Attorney Tanya Treadway wrote. "The Court should consider the dire consequences of the defendants' crimes, regardless of the type of crimes they committed."
Attorney Lawrence Williamson, who represents the doctor, said the defense does not believe the couple should be sentenced to life in prison and plans to ask the judge for the minimum sentence he can give them. He noted the 57-year-old doctor had never been in trouble with the law before this case.
"There is undisputed evidence that he was trying to help people and I think that is an important factor that we hope the court takes into consideration," Williamson said.
In addition to conspiracy, the Schneiders were found guilty on five counts of unlawfully writing prescriptions and 11 health care fraud 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 government contends losses for clinic services and prescriptions was more than $20 million, with some 93 insurance programs and more than 500 patients defrauded.
Kevin Byers, the lead defense attorney for Linda Schneider, did not immediately return a call for comment.
Linda Schneider, 52, is in a tougher position than her husband at sentencing because not only was she convicted of more money-laundering counts, but she also has a previous felony conviction for fraud. Prosecutors also recorded threats she made against her former defense attorney and Treadway while imprisoned before trial.
Belot wrote in an earlier decision refusing to toss out the verdict that, based on the entirety of the evidence, the jury was entitled to conclude that Linda Schneider was "the chief architect" of the defendants' criminal conduct.
To support a life sentence, prosecutors argued in their filing that the Schneiders victimized a large number of vulnerable patients. The government also contended the couple organized an extensive criminal activity, noting there were other "criminally responsible co-conspirators."
Prosecutors also argued in their filing that the Schneiders should get the life sentences for obstructing justice.
The government contends the doctor and his father-in-law created a false lien to keep an Oklahoma property out of the hands of civil plaintiffs in medical malpractice cases and out of the hands of the government in the criminal case.
Prosecutors also argued in asking for the life sentences that Linda Schneider through a family member indirectly attempted to intimidate trial witnesses and that their attorneys allowed witnesses to lie on the stand.
"It is expected they would seek life based on the sentencing guidelines," Williamson said. "But what is unexpected is the steps that they are going through to create all these false innuendoes to support their request."
He said it is untrue the Schneiders obstructed justice and that there is no evidence that Linda Schneider attempted to intimidate witnesses. He also said defense attorneys did not knowingly allow anybody to misrepresent anything on the stand.
Defense attorneys expect to file an appeal, Williamson said, adding that they plan to ask the court to appoint other appellate counsel.