A Haysville doctor and his wife whose clinic is linked to dozens of overdose deaths have asked a federal judge to sentence them today to the mandatory minimum 20 years in prison, rather than the life sentences prosecutors seek.
A court document filed Saturday by defense attorneys in the case of Stephen Schneider and his wife, Linda, argues that unduly harsh sentences are likely to discourage doctors to prescribe controlled drugs for fear their patients will mislead them or not use medications as directed.
The defense also argued that excessive sentences would deter other physicians from accepting government-sponsored insurance that involves complex billing procedures fraught with human error.
The defense argued that the sentencing guidelines were intended to punish drug dealers who traffic in heroin and crack cocaine.
"Plainly, this type of conduct is a far cry from the acts at issue here, and treating the defendants similarly to run-of-the-mill drug dealers would result in an excessive and unfair punishment," the defense wrote.
A federal jury in June found the couple guilty of unlawfully prescribing drugs, health care fraud and money laundering following a nearly eight-week trial. Jurors convicted them of a moneymaking conspiracy that prosecutors linked to 68 overdose deaths.
In addition to conspiracy, the Schneiders were found guilty on five counts of unlawfully writing prescriptions and 11 counts of health care fraud. 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 were more than $20 million, with some 93 insurance programs and more than 500 patients defrauded.
In seeking the life sentences, prosecutors had noted in an earlier filing that jurors found the Schneiders' conduct resulted in serious bodily injury to 14 individuals and the deaths of 10 patients. Prosecutors argued that if this had been 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.
Prosecutors sought the life sentences because they contend 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 coconspirators."
The 57-year-old doctor does not have a criminal record, one of the factors in determining a sentencing guideline. But Linda Schneider, 52, has a previous felony conviction for fraud.