TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) -- A Manhattan doctor accused of running a pill mill at his pain clinic remains in custody as federal prosecutors prepare to present his case to a federal grand jury.
Michael Schuster, 53, appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Gary Sebelius Tuesday, waiving his right to a preliminary hearing and delaying a detention hearing that would have determined whether he could be released from custody as he waits for his case to move forward in the court system. No evidence was presented during the hearing.
Schuster's license was suspended last week after his arrest at the Manhattan Regional Airport and raid of his clinic- Manhattan Pain & Spine- on Westport Drive in Manhattan.
U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom said Schuster is charged with one count of conspiracy to illegally distribute controlled substances.
A criminal complaint filed 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 federal government says that Schuster was out of the office when a total of 542 patients received prescriptions for medications including painkillers and antidepressants.
In the affidavit from the FBI agent on the case, it 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. Records indicate that he's been licensed to practice medicine and surgery in the state of Kansas since January 31, 2004.
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.
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.
Manhattan pharmacies were notified not to fill prescriptions from his clinic.
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 pills on the street.
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."
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 remains in the custody of the U. S. Marshal's Service. Prosecutors said his case will go before a federal grand jury to determine whether or not there is probable cause for the case to move forward. The government plans to present the evidence they've accumulated during their investigation into the practices at Schuster's clinic.
Schuster's attorney had no comment Tuesday. The doctor's wife was present in court Tuesday. She was instructed by her husband's lawyer not to speak to members of the media.
Schuster's detention hearing has been set for May 7th at 1:30 PM in Topeka.