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Doctor linked to Riley soldiers' overdoses remains jailed

Apr. 24, 2013 - 07:58PM   |  
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WICHITA, KAN. — A Kansas doctor linked to drug overdoses by active-duty Fort Riley soldiers remained jailed after prosecutors told a federal judge he poses “a serious risk of flight” given his financial resources outside the country.

Michael P. Schuster is charged in a federal criminal complaint with conspiracy to distribute drugs. His initial hearing Wednesday in federal court in Wichita left unanswered whether any soldiers or family members died from overdoses, as suggested in an affidavit filed in support of the charge.

First appearances in federal courts are typically used to set bonds and conditions of release, but the government in this case requested temporary detention, which U.S. Magistrate Judge Karen Humphreys granted. A full detention hearing to determine whether Schuster should remain in custody pending trial, or be released on bond, has been set for Tuesday in Topeka.

The 53-year-old Manhattan, Kan., physician has financial resources of more than $1 million outside the U.S., a home in Paraguay and two passports, Assistant U.S. Attorney Aaron Smith told the court.

Defense attorney Barry Clark declined comment outside the courtroom, saying he has not yet seen the government’s evidence.

The charges were filed the same day that the FBI searched Schuster’s clinic, Manhattan Pain and Spine. The Manhattan clinic is about 15 miles from Fort Riley, a U.S. Army base that is home to the 1st Infantry Division. Fort Riley officials declined comment Wednesday on the case or any soldier deaths, citing the ongoing investigation.

Schuster was arrested Tuesday at the Manhattan airport, FBI spokeswoman Bridgett Patton said.

The investigation into his clinic began early last year when the Riley County Police Department told federal prosecutors that Schuster was issuing prescriptions for high doses of controlled substances based on minimal physical exams. Many of those drugs wound up being peddled on the street.

Fort Riley physicians and hospital staff also voiced concerns to military investigators about several overdose deaths of active-duty soldiers and family members who were patients of Dr. Schuster, according to an affidavit by FBI agent Jason Sahin that was filed with the criminal complaint.

Schuster was the only one in his office authorized to prescribe controlled substances. But Sahin wrote in his affidavit that Schuster would sign his name to blank prescriptions and leave those behind, directing staff to fill them out while he was traveling, including overseas to Russia, South Africa and Uruguay. Authorities allege Schuster was out of the office when 542 patients received prescriptions for drugs including the painkillers oxycodone and morphine.

A federal grand jury is expected to consider the case next week for indictment.

The case against Schuster is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Tanya Treadway, who successfully prosecuted Stephen and Linda Schneider, the Haysville couple convicted in 2010 of a moneymaking conspiracy linked to 68 overdose deaths. The Schneiders were also convicted of conspiracy, unlawfully prescribing drugs, health care fraud and money laundering. Stephen Schneider was sentenced to 30 years, and his wife to 33 years.

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