Manhattan, KAN (WIBW)-- A Manhattan physician is charged with a federal offense stemming from a year-long investigation into faulty prescriptions and an alleged pill mill at his pain clinic.
The case is getting national attention, making headlines across the country.
The FBI and Riley County police detectives executed a search warrant at the Manhattan Pain and Spine Center Tuesday. The clinic is located at 1135 Westport Drive. It is operated by Dr. Michael Schuster.
U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom revealed that Schuster, 53, is accused of unlawfully prescribing prescription drugs, causing some patients- including Fort Riley soldiers and their family members- to overdose on the medications.
The FBI confirms that Schuster was arrested at the Manhattan Regional Airport Tuesday afternoon without incident. Officials said he has since been transferred into federal custody. FBI Public Affairs Specialist Bridget Patton could not comment on what Dr. Schuster was doing at the airport at the time of his arrest.
Physician Michael Schuster, 53, who operates Manhattan Pain and Spine in Manhattan is charged with one count of conspiracy to illegally distribute controlled substances.
A criminal complaint filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Topeka alleges that Schuster employed unlicensed staff members who distributed controlled substances to patients using Schuster’s signature on prescriptions while he was traveling out of the state or out of the country.
The indictment alleges that Schuster was out of the office when a total of 542 patients received prescriptions for medications including oxycodone, morphine, hydromorphone, oxymorphone, fentanyl, amphetamine salts, tapentadol, methadone, methylphenidate, hydrocodone, diazepam, alprazolam, zolpidem titrate and clonazepam.
According to an affidavit from the FBI agent on the case, the investigation began early in 2012 when the Riley County Police Department received reports that Schuster was issuing prescriptions for high dosages of scheduled drugs based on minimal or cursory physical examinations. As a result, several patients had overdosed on their medications and Riley County Police were investigating the diversion of prescription drugs. Simultaneously, physicians and hospital staff at Fort Riley voiced concerns to Army Criminal Investigative Division that active duty soldiers and family members who died from overdoses were patients of Schuster.
Fort Riley Public Affairs officials declined to release information about the reported deaths involving soldiers and their family members.
"I confirm we are supporting the US Attorney's investigation. This is a community concern and as members of the community, we, the 1st Infantry Division and Fort Riley, want to make sure we do our part…While Dr. Schuster was at one time an authorized TRICARE medical provider, any details concerning patients is protected by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and again delves into investigative matters," said Jason Roberts, 1st Infantry Division Public Affairs Media Relations Manager.
In the affidavit from the FBI agent on the case, it also states Schuster would sign blank prescription pads that his staff would use to issue medications when he traveled.
He was the only person in the office with a DEA registration number to prescribe controlled substances, the agent said.
Red flags were raised by local pharmacists who called his office with questions after receiving prescriptions with his signature that were "early"- meaning that they had been issued prior to the expiration of the normal 30 days between prescriptions, given the frequency the drugs were to be taken- only to be informed that Schuster was out of the office traveling. Manhattan pharmacies were notified not to fill prescriptions from his clinic.
“During these interviews, I learned of Dr. Schuster’s pattern and practice of using unlicensed staff members to issue prescriptions to patients at times when he was not present in Kansas, let alone his clinic,” the FBI agent wrote in the document.
Schuster, previously known as Mikhail Pavlovich Shusterov, is a 1982 graduate of Stavropol State Medical Academy in Russia. Around March 2004, he moved from the northeast to accept a position at Mercy Regional Health Center in Manhattan and eventually opened his own practice nearby.
The 14-page affidavit goes on to state findings from interviews with Fort Riley physicians and local area pharmacies, including allegations that Dr. Schuster prescribed unusually high dosages of narcotics “despite questionable medical necessity;” allowed patients to get early refills and had a tendency to attract patients suspected of selling their prescription medications on the street.
Investigators documented various prescriptions bearing Schuster’s signature while he was on trips to Russia, South Africa, Uruguay, Canada, New York, Chile, Argentina, and Israel.
If convicted, he faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison and a fine up to $1 million. If death or bodily injury results from the crime, the penalty is not less than 20 years. Schuster made his first appearance Wednesday, April 24, 2013 in federal court in Wichita.
A bond was not set by the magistrate judge. Instead, the judge ordered Dr. Schuster to be held in custody pending a hearing at 10 a.m. Tuesday, April 30 in federal court in Topeka.
"Tuesday’s hearing will focus on whether the judge will allow the defendant to be released pending trial, and, if so, under what conditions he would be released," said Jim Cross, Public Information Officer for U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom in the District of Kansas.
Investigating agencies in the case include the Riley County Police Department; the Federal Bureau of Investigation; the Department of Defense, Criminal Investigative Service (DCIS); the Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG); the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA); the Department of Homeland Security - Homeland Security Investigations (DHS-HSI); and the Diplomatic Security Service (DSS).
Calls to Dr. Schuster's attorney were not returned Wednesday.