Mingo doctor gets 6 months for pill scheme
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A federal judge sentenced a Mingo County doctor to six months in prison Tuesday for illegally providing prescription medication to patients she never examined.
Diane E. Shafer, 60, also will pay a $5,000 fine, U.S. District Judge John C. Copenhaver ruled.
In May, Shafer pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to conspiracy to misuse her Drug Enforcement Administration registration number. The plea came as a result of a federal probe that examined Shafer's doling out of more than 118,000 prescriptions since 2003.
Lisa K. Baisden, one of Shafer's office workers, pleaded guilty in 2010 to handing out prescriptions pre-signed by Shafer in exchange for pills. Baisden was given three years' probation.
Dwane Tinsley, Shafer's lawyer, asked Copenhaver to place Shafer on probation so she could care for her 81-year-old mother. Shafer has been the sole caregiver for the woman since December 2009. Shafer also presented a number of letters to the court praising her for her civic duty and for her help to patients.
"Dr. Shafer truly cared for her patients," Tinsley said. "She treated a lot of people for free."
Tinsley said Shafer should have kept better records and run a tighter medical practice, but characterized her crime as an "administrative failure" rather than a medical one.
"She was more concerned with her patients than with the running of her office," he said.
A tearful Shafer told the judge she was sorry, and asked for probation to care for her mother and make up for her crime.
"I would ask the court to somehow allow me to return something to the community through probation and community service," she said.
But Copenhaver disagreed, pointing out that Shafer issued more prescriptions than many hospitals.
"This offense is more than an administrative offense," the judge said. Copenhaver said Shafer was part of the "pill mill" that helped flood Mingo and surrounding counties with prescription pain medications, a problem that persists to this day. He said patients would line up outside Shafer's office door to be seen for mere moments before being handed prescriptions for painkillers.
Although he conceded Shafer had done some good things in her community and was liked by some of her patients, Copenhaver said the seriousness of her crime offset her good deeds.
"It's important to deter others from like conduct," he said.
Copenhaver gave Shafer until Nov. 16 to make arrangements for the care of her mother. She is to report that day to begin her sentence.
Shafer has a long history of run-ins with the law and with medical officials. In 1988, the West Virginia Board of Medicine fined her $2,500 for failing to report a medical malpractice settlement. In 1993, she lost her license to practice in Kentucky and was convicted of bribery, though the bribery conviction was later overturned.
West Virginia suspended Shafer's medical license in 1993 and revoked it in 1998 based on the case in Kentucky and because she allegedly filed false workers' compensation claims. The West Virginia Supreme Court restored her license in 2000, ruling that the state Board of Medicine waited too long to revoke it.
In 2004, Shafer was charged with shoplifting for allegedly failing to pay for merchandise at a Walmart in South Williamson, Ky. In 2005, the state Workers' Compensation Commission cut her off from receiving payments for patients.
Shafer surrendered her medical license for good in December 2009, after State Police investigators found pre-signed prescriptions in her office. They found the office so cluttered it was "physically impossible for her to utilize her examining tables to examine patients," according to previous reports.
Shafer was an unsuccessful candidate for the state Legislature in 1996, 1998, 2002, 2004 and 2012.
Reach Rusty Marks at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1215.