MANHATTAN, Kan. (WIBW) -- The parking lot was empty at the Manhattan Pain and Spine Center Wednesday but it was a much different scene the day before as federal agents and Riley County detectives raided the office of Dr. Michael Schuster.
As authorities swarmed his pain clinic on Westport Drive, the 53-year-old doctor, was arrested at the Manhattan Regional Airport. The FBI won’t elaborate on what Schuster was doing there when he was taken into custody.
Now, his patients are left wondering where to turn.
"It’s been very frustrating. I can’t contact him in any way and I don’t know what I’m going to do. In a week, I had an appointment to get my neck blocked. It was a procedure he was going to give me to relieve the pain in my neck and now I don’t know what to do. There’s a whole bunch of his patients out there that we have to find other doctors, I guess," said Kimberly Dejac.
"I’ve only gone to him for six weeks so I was very surprised. It’s very scary. I’m glad they caught him," she added.
Schuster 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 Schuster's patients.
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. He entered a plea of not guilty.
A bond was not set by the magistrate judge after federal prosecutors described the doctor as a flight risk. They said Schuster has more than $1 million outside the U.S., a home in Paraguay and two passports.
The judge ordered Dr. Schuster to be held in custody pending a hearing at 10 AM Tuesday, April 30 in federal court in Topeka.
Kevin Neitzel, owner of "The Fridge" has been in business on Westport Drive for 17 years. His liquor store is located across the street from Schuster's clinic.
"I was just as shocked as everybody else. It’s just crazy that something like this happened here in Manhattan... It’s dangerous when you’re messing around with prescription medication.. It’s crazy the amount of traffic that went in and out of there the last two years. It’s hard to believe all of that was going on on our little street here on Westport," Neitzel said.
Calls to Schuster's attorney, Barry Clark of Manhattan, have not been returned.