A doctor involved in a strange medical-discipline case in Kentucky decades ago has pleaded guilty to improperly prescribing drugs in West Virginia.
Diane E. Shafer, 60, admitted she left signed prescriptions at her office so that when she was away employees could distribute them in return for cash payments from people whom Shafer had not examined that day, according to a news release from R. Booth Goodwin II, the federal prosecutor for southern West Virginia.
Shafer had an office in Williamson, across the state line from Pike County, but in one court document, she listed her address as Paintsville.
Records indicated that from 2003 to early 2010, Shafer wrote more than 118,000 prescriptions for drugs that included painkillers and Xanax, according to a news release. That was more than several hospitals in West Virginia wrote in that same period, Goodwin said in a news release.
More than two decades earlier, Shafer was involved in a case in Kentucky that included allegations of bigamy, bribery and medical misconduct.
Shafer was accused in the late 1980s of overprescribing drugs, giving poor surgical care and unnecessarily admitting patients to hospitals for treatment, according to published reports.
An assistant state attorney general, Gregory Nelson Holmes, was assigned to investigate the allegations. Shafer allegedly bought gifts and vacations for Holmes and gave him interest-free loans to persuade him to recommend dismissal of the medical-licensure case.
The two allegedly married in Tennessee in December 1989, days before Holmes recommended dropping the case. However, Holmes, who was blind, claimed that Shafer obtained the wedding license by fraud and fabricated photos of the two.
Shafer wanted it to appear they were married because she thought she could not be charged with bribing her husband, Holmes contended.
Holmes said he married his longtime assistant, Kathryn Harmon, in May 1992.
However, a judge refused to annul Holmes' marriage to Shafer, and he was charged with bigamy.
Shafer's case came to trial in April 1993. She was convicted of bribing a public official. She was sentenced to five years in prison, and her medical license was revoked.
Holmes was convicted of accepting bribes, bigamy and theft, for claiming he was working when he was spending time with Shafer, according to reports from the time.
He was sentenced to five years in prison.
The state Court of Appeals overturned Shafer's criminal conviction because the prosecutor was later hired by the Kentucky Board of Medical Licensure and led the effort to revoke her license.
Kentucky officials refused to reinstate her medical license, but West Virginia officials did so. She continued practicing in Williamson, and was the Mingo County coroner for a period beginning in 1997.
She gave up her medical license in West Virginia in December 2009 as state and federal authorities investigated allegations that she was running a pill mill.
Authorities said that in many cases, Shafer did not examine patients.
One witness said that Shafer and her staff ran patients through the office "like cattle" and that there were as many as 30 people in line to see her at times, according to a court document.
Shafer, who pleaded guilty last week in federal court, is to be sentenced in August. She faces up to four years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
She also agreed to forfeit $134,550 to the federal government.
"It's disgraceful when a physician abuses his or her position of trust to engage in conduct that ultimately destroys families and communities," Goodwin said in a news release.