CHARLESTON (AP) — A former West Virginia doctor and minor political figure pleaded guilty Thursday to providing prescriptions for pain and anti-anxiety pills to people without examining them or determining they needed such drugs.
Diane Shafer faces up to four years in prison after admitting to conspiracy to misuse a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration registration number. U.S. District Court Judge John T. Copenhaver Jr. set an Aug. 24 sentencing for the 60-year-old, who remains free on bond.
Prosecutors said Shafer wrote more than 118,000 prescriptions for controlled substances between 2003 and early 2010 — more than what some hospitals in West Virginia issued during that time. With her plea, Shafer admitted that she left signed prescription slips at her Mingo County office throughout 2009. Her staff would hand them out for such drugs as hydrocodone, a painkiller, and the anti-anxiety medicine Xanax in exchange for cash while she was out.
Though she knew her office was distributing these prescriptions, Shafer had not examined the people who received them or determined they were “for a legitimate medical purpose on the date actually issued,” her plea agreement filing said. “On the days (Shafer) was absent from her principal practice location, she did not know who was receiving controlled substances.”
The federal guilty plea closes the door to a medical career that saw the Mingo County physician repeatedly run afoul of licensing boards both in West Virginia and neighboring Kentucky. Previous ethics allegations had targeted her prescription practices and treatment of workers’ compensation patients, among other areas. Shafer secretly married the Kentucky official who presided over and later dismissed one of those ethics cases, while also giving him $42,500. Her subsequent 1993 bribery conviction was later overturned.
Shafer ran and lost in this month’s GOP primary for the House of Delegates and to represent the state party at the Republican National Convention. A former Republican State Executive Committee member, Shafer was also a top individual donor to the West Virginia GOP last decade. She had switched parties after running for the Legislature repeatedly as a Democrat without success.
Shafer’s West Virginia medical license expired in late 2009, according to that board’s records, and she is no longer listed as active by the Kentucky Board of Medical Licensure. Shafer surrendered her DEA registration and agreed to never re-apply for one as part of her plea deal with prosecutors, signed last month. She is also forfeiting $134,550 of the nearly $600,000 in cash and other assets seized by investigators in early 2010.
One other Williamson medical office was also raided amid an ongoing probe of “pill mills,” or places that provide addictive pain drugs or prescriptions to people who don’t need them medically. Shafer shared an apartment with one of the physicians who practiced at that since-shuttered Mountain Medical clinic. Another, William Ryckman, was sentenced in March to six month in prison after pleading guilty late last year to the same conspiracy felony as Shafer.
Ryckman, 66, and Shafer each agreed to cooperate as part of their plea deals. In both Shafer’s case and the clinic’s, prosecutors have sought the forfeiture of more than $2.2 million in seized assets through civil lawsuits.
“It’s disgraceful when a physician abuses his or her position of trust to engage in conduct that ultimately destroys families and communities,” U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin, southern West Virginia’s chief federal prosecutor, said in a statement. “I have zero tolerance for doctors or pharmacists who use their prescription power to victimize the vulnerable.”