SCRANTON — A Pike County physician faces a mandatory minimum of 20 years up to life in federal prison after being convicted Monday of illegally prescribing thousands of doses of opioids to patients, including a pregnant woman and a person who fatally overdosed.
Dr. Fuhai Li, 53, of Milford, allowed his “insatiable greed” to govern his medical practice, resulting in numerous patients becoming addicted to opioids, federal authorities said at a press conference today announcing the verdict.
“Physicians who choose to over prescribe must and should be on notice ... If they engage in this behavior, this is how they will end up,” said David Freed, U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Pennsylvania.
Li was convicted of all 32 counts he faced, which included one count of drug distribution resulting in death for the fatal overdose of a Honesdale woman and one count of distribution of a controlled substance to a pregnant woman.
The verdict came after a five week trial before Senior U.S. District Judge A. Richard Caputo that included testimony from 19 former patients, three of Li’s former employees, eight pharmacists and several physicians who detailed the “pill mill” operation Li ran from the Neurology and Pain Management Centers at 104 Bennett Ave. and 200 3rd St., both in Milford.
“Former patients testified over and over that Dr. Li repeatedly prescribed them high doses of oxycodone and other opioids every month over several years without performing a medical examination and without verifying their prior medical treatment,” Freed said.
Reached Tuesday evening, Li’s attorney, William Ruzzo,said the loss was “especially bitter” because he and his co-counsel, Michael Weinstein, believed Li was innocent.
Ruzzo said a defense expert testified Li’s prescribing practices were within medical guidelines. He acknowledged Li did not thoroughly investigate patients to detect those who were abusing opioids. He contends that was an error ofr judgment and not intentional.
“The government convinced the jury . . . our client should have done more,” Ruzzo said. “I agree. He should have done more. Should have is negligent. It’s not criminal.”
Freed said prosecutors had extensive evidence to support their claim that the narcotics Li prescribed were not medically necessary. Records showed Li falsified information in medical charts to hide his actions.
Some of his patients were already addicts who were “doctor shopping.” Others had legitimate ailments, only to become addicted partly due to Li’s penchant for prescribing the highest dosage of oxycodone available, Freed said.
“You had patients come in and say I went in with a legitimate complaint and I left an addict.” Freed said.
The medical practice was extremely profitable. Investigators found more than $1 million in cash hidden under beds and in closets when they searched his East Stroudsburg home in 2015.
The investigation began in 2013, when one of Li’s employees contacted law enforcement, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Michelle Olshefski, who prosecuted the case with fellow Assistant U.S. Attorneys Francis Sempa and Evan Gotlob.
Around the same time, the Scranton office of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration received an anonymous letter raising concerns about Li.
Investigators checked a nationwide database and discovered Li wrote 26,985 prescriptions for controlled substances between August 2011 and January 2015, including 18,155 for oxycodone, Freed said.
“That’s not the number of pills. That’s the number of prescriptions,” Freed said. “When that evidence was presented you could see . . . the eyebrows of the jurors go up.”
In addition to the drug charges, Li was convicted of money laundering. He also was found guilty of tax evasion for failing to report more than $800,000 in cash payments he received for narcotics from 2011 to 2013.
Caputo allowed Li to remain free on bail with electronic monitoring, pending sentencing, which has not been set. Freed said his office will appeal that decision because he believes the law requires Li’s bail be revoked.
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