Center City Doctor Pleads Guilty to Illegally Distributing Controlled Substances and Filing False Tax Returns and Agrees to Pay $4 Million to Resolve Civil and Related Allegations
PHILADELPHIA, PA – Acting United States Attorney Jennifer Arbittier Williams announced that Stephen Padnes, M.D., 79, of Glenside, Pennsylvania, a physician formerly licensed in Pennsylvania, entered a guilty plea before United States District Court Judge Gene E.K. Pratter on criminal charges of illegally distributing controlled substances and filing false tax returns.
Williams also announced that Padnes has agreed to pay $2 million to settle a civil lawsuit brought by the United States seeking penalties and damages against him. The settlement resolves allegations that Padnes prescribed opioids without a legitimate medical purpose in violation of the Controlled Substances Act and False Claims Act (the “Civil Action”). The resolution of the Civil Action also excludes Padnes from participating in the Medicare program for at least ten years.
Padnes has also entered into a settlement agreement with the United States whereby he has agreed to the civil forfeiture of over $1.8 million in cash seized from his home as proceeds of unlawful prescribing (the “Forfeiture Action”).
The Drug Enforcement Agency has also rescinded Padnes’s licenses to prescribe controlled substances.
Criminal Guilty Plea
Earlier today, Padnes pled guilty to the criminal indictment, which charged him with illegally prescribing Schedule II controlled substances, oxycodone and methadone, on seven occasions between December 21, 2015 and June 29, 2016, without any medical necessity and outside the usual course of medical practice. It also charged that Padnes underreported the income earned by his medical practice, the Psychosomatic Medicine and Pain Rehabilitation Center, Inc., to the Internal Revenue Service by more than $700,000 for calendar years 2012, 2013, and 2014. Padnes faces a maximum possible sentence of 149 years’ imprisonment and has agreed to pay $301,219 in restitution to the IRS.
$2 Million Settlement of the Civil Action and Exclusion from Medicare
Padnes has agreed to pay an additional $2 million to settle the government’s allegations against him in the Civil Action brought pursuant to the Controlled Substances Act and the False Claims Act. Padnes has also agreed to be excluded from participating as a provider in the Medicare program for at least ten (10) years.
The Civil Action alleges that Padnes violated the Controlled Substances Act by issuing prescriptions on hundreds of occasions for Schedule II opioids in 2014, 2015, and 2016 without a legitimate medical purpose. The government alleges numerous instances where Padnes accepted cash payments, hundreds of dollars each, in exchange for prescriptions for high doses of opioids without maintaining medical records in the normal course of medical practice, physical exams, reevaluations, and/or monitoring of the effectiveness of the opioids he prescribed.
The government alleges numerous examples where Padnes regularly prescribed the equivalent of over 1,000 milligrams of morphine per day to certain purported patients in exchange for cash. In one example, the government alleges that Padnes issued prescriptions for so many opioids to a patient that the patient would have needed to consume nearly 70 pills, the equivalent of 4,000 milligrams of morphine, every day. For reference, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidance on opioid prescribing for chronic pain patients urges caution when patients are prescribed more than the equivalent of 50 milligrams of morphine per day and should usually not be prescribed greater than the equivalent of 90 milligrams of morphine every day. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/65/rr/rr6501e1.htm?CDC_AA_refVal=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.cdc.gov%2Fmmwr%2Fvolumes%2F65%2Frr%2Frr6501e1er.htm#recommendations
The government also alleges that Padnes violated the False Claims Act because Medicare and Medicaid paid to fill thousands of prescriptions that Padnes issued without a legitimate medical purpose, causing a loss to these programs exceeding $1 million.
The Controlled Substances Act provides for penalties for each prescription issued without a legitimate medical purpose up to $25,000 for violations on or before November 2, 2015 and up to $64,820 per violation after November 2, 2015. The False Claims Act allows for damages treble the government’s loss and civil penalties between $5,500 and $11,000 for each false claim presented on or before November 2, 2015 and between $11,181 and $22,363 for each false claim presented after November 2, 2015.
Civil Forfeiture of $1,864,545
On August 12, 2019, the United States filed a civil forfeiture complaint seeking the forfeiture of $1,864,545 cash seized from the defendant’s home during the execution of a search warrant in 2016. The government alleges that cash was the proceeds from Padnes’s unlawful medical practice from at least 2010 to 2016. The government alleges that, during that time, the vast majority of the defendant’s “patients” paid up to approximately $500 in cash for prescriptions for controlled substances, including Schedule II opioids such as oxycodone and methadone, that he wrote outside the usual course of medical practice and without a legitimate medical purpose. The cash was discovered in suitcases and a dresser located in a bedroom in the defendant’s home.
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“Our community continues to cope with the tragic and deadly consequences of the opioid epidemic,” said Acting United States Attorney Williams. “A small number of corrupt doctors put greed before their oath, abused their positions of trust, and fanned the flames of the epidemic by pumping untold millions of illicit opioid pills onto our streets without a legitimate medical purpose simply to enrich themselves. As this case demonstrates, we will bring the full force of the federal government to find, investigate, and prosecute such wrongdoing criminally and civilly,” said Williams. “To any prescriber who may be tempted to sell opioid prescriptions without a legitimate medical purpose, be warned: it is not worth it. We will find you, we will prosecute you, and we will make you pay,” said Williams.
Williams continued, “This parallel criminal and civil prosecution represents exceptional professionalism and teamwork of the Criminal, Civil, and Forfeiture units of this Office and our dedicated law enforcement partners over the course of this complex case. I wish to specifically commend the FBI, DEA, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Internal Revenue Service for their investigative work,” said Williams.
“Dr. Padnes routinely prescribed dangerous amounts of opioids without any medical necessity in exchange for cash, making him no different than a drug dealer on the street,” said Thomas Hodnett, Acting Special Agent in Charge of the DEA’s Philadelphia Field Division. “I want to thank our partners at HHS, IRS, and the FBI; working together we were able to pursue criminal charges and civil violations against rogue doctors like Padnes that have contributed to the opioid epidemic.”
“As a consequence, for prescribing opioids without medical necessity, Mr. Padnes will be excluded from participating in the Medicare program for at least ten years,” said Maureen R. Dixon, Special Agent in Charge for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “Working closely with our law enforcement partners and the criminal and civil divisions of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, HHS-OIG will continue to protect the integrity of government health care programs.”
“Today’s guilty plea sends a message to all professionals that no one is above their responsibility to pay taxes,” said Yury Kruty, Acting Special Agent in Charge, Philadelphia Field Office. “All income, legally or illegally earned, is taxable. IRS-Criminal Investigation will always work with our law enforcement partners and provide our financial expertise to stop individuals from illegally distributing controlled substances to the American public.”
“Stephen Padnes admits abusing his prescribing privileges for profit,” said Bradley S. Benavides, Acting Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Philadelphia Division. “Doctors willing to illegally distribute and prescribe opioids to enrich themselves only deepen the drug epidemic that continues to ravage our area. That’s why the FBI is so determined to shut down unscrupulous medical professionals engaged in drug diversion. I encourage the public to report any information about prescription abuse to us or our law enforcement partners.”
The investigation was conducted by the Philadelphia Field Division of the Drug Enforcement Administration, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General, Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation Health Care Fraud Task Force, which includes agents from the FBI, Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office, and HHS-OIG.
For the United States Attorney’s Office, the criminal case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Jerome Maiatico, the civil Controlled Substances Act and False Claims Act matter was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Charlene Keller Fullmer and former Assistant United States Attorney John T. Crutchlow, and the civil forfeiture matter is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Maria M. Carrillo.
Except for those facts admitted to in the guilty plea, the claims resolved by the civil settlements are allegations only, and there has been no determination of liability.