Prosecutors: Manhattan Dr. Has Passports, Money, Home Overseas

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MANHATTAN, Kan. (WIBW) -- Federal prosecutors say Dr. Michael Schuster is a flight risk after his arrest at the Manhattan Regional Airport and due to his assets overseas.

Federal agents and Riley County detectives raided the office of Dr. Michael Schuster, 53, Tuesday.

As authorities swarmed his pain clinic, Manhattan Pain & Spine, on Westport Drive, the 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.

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, saying only that the installation is "supporting" the investigation, calling the probe "a community concern."

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 United States, 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. The hearing will determine whether Schuster can be released from custody as he awaits trial.

Calls to Schuster's attorney, Barry Clark of Manhattan, have not been returned.