A Florida doctor has admitted he took part in stoking the crippling abuse of prescription drugs in Eastern Kentucky by writing prescriptions for 25,000 pain pills to people in a drug ring.
Michael Shook, 52, of Boca Raton, pleaded guilty Thursday in federal court to conspiracy to distribute oxycodone and methadone.
Shook is the second South Florida doctor convicted in a drug-trafficking scheme in Eastern Kentucky. The other doctor, Roger Browne, pleaded guilty in November 2008 to conspiring with people in northeast Kentucky to distribute drugs and was sentenced to 30 months in prison.
Shook faces up to 20 years in prison. He is scheduled to be sentenced June 24 in Lexington before U.S. District Judge Gregory F. Van Tatenhove.
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"Today's plea is an example of law enforcement's commitment to hold anyone accountable, including doctors, that contribute to this pill epidemic that continues to afflict areas in this eastern district," U.S. Attorney Kerry Harvey said in a statement.
The case illustrates a problem that has burgeoned in the last few years: Kentuckians going to doctors in other states to get prescriptions for pain pills, then bringing the pills home to abuse and sell.
Florida has been a key destination because it has hundreds of pain clinics and, unlike Kentucky and more than 30 other states, no system to track pills dispensed in the state.
Shook was involved with a drug ring headed by James Marsillet II, who has pleaded guilty to operating a continuing criminal enterprise around Pike and Floyd counties.
The pills Shook helped funnel into Eastern Kentucky did considerable damage, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Roger West, the prosecutor on the case.
"This is a large distributor of controlled substances," West said.
Authorities shut down the drug ring by working from the street level to the distributor at the top, West said.
According to court documents, Shook agreed with two other men in 2007 to open and operate a pain clinic called the Lauderhill Medical Clinic in Oakland Park.
One of the other men drummed up business for Lauderhill by passing out fliers in the parking lots of other clinics and offering discount deals, West said.
Shook's plea agreement makes clear the goal was to generate cash, not treat patients.
Shook did minimal exams, or none at all, before giving people prescriptions that could be filled on site, according to his plea agreement.
"The 'patient' visits were fraudulent and were not for legitimate medical purpose," Shook's plea agreement said.
The typical prescription Shook wrote was for 480 oxycodone pills, in two strengths, and 240 methadone tablets — an overprescribed amount in that combination, Shook acknowledged.
That went on from late 2007 until April 2010, when authorities raided Shook's clinic, according to his plea agreement.
The office visit cost about $250, and the pills cost $1,700, all in cash, according to a court document.
Marsillet, who had earlier been involved in getting pills from doctors in Philadelphia and Cincinnati, "sponsored" carloads of people at times to go to Shook's office, paying for the cost of travel, the office visit and the prescriptions in return for a portion of the pills, court documents say.
By late 2008, about 90 percent of the people coming to the clinic were from Eastern Kentucky, Shook said in his plea agreement.
An affidavit in the case said police found files on 1,400 people, most of them from Eastern Kentucky, at Shook's office. While searching the clinic of Browne, the other Florida doctor convicted in a Kentucky-related drug-trafficking scheme, investigators found files for about 500 Kentucky patients.
Shook has been free on bond. He has agreed to forfeit his interest in $200,000 seized from clinic accounts.
An investigation related to the case continues, West said.