BAY CITY — A Caseville pharmacist and a Berkley physician will spend three years in federal prison for illegally distributing prescription pain killers.
U.S. District Judge Thomas L. Ludington sentenced pharmacist Paul J. Nugent and former Harbor Beach Hospital emergency room physician Philip J. Lafata today in federal court in Bay City.
Nugent, 55, and Lafata, 77, pleaded guilty to unlawful use of a communication facility to distribute hydromorphone, a derivative of morphine.
The charges is a 48-month felony.
U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents arrested Nugent and Lafata in August 2009, alleging that in 2007 and 2008, Nugent filled prescriptions that Lafata wrote for large amounts of Dilaudid for a nurse with whom the doctor was having a sexual relationship.
Nugent’s attorney, Saginaw-based William A. Brisbois, said although Nugent honored the doctor’s orders, he warned Lafata the woman was getting too much of the drug.
“He spoke with the doctor about weaning her off of it,” Brisbois said.
Before sentencing Nugent, Ludington addressed a question that he said had been weighing on his mind since he first read the case.
“What happened here?” he asked.
Nugent defended himself, saying the patient had legitimate medical issues for which the drug would likely be prescribed. He also said filled high-dosage prescriptions for other patients.
“I talked to the doctor and the patient,” he said. “I told the doctor she was getting too much, this was crazy. He said he had a plan to wean her down.”
Prosecutor Roy R. Kranz said there were a couple of occasions when Nugent provided the drugs then asked Lafata to post-date prescriptions.
Ludington acknowledged that Nugent and Lafata have made significant contributions to their communities.
“There are many things about your life that you should be proud of,” he told Nugent. “This (appears to be) an error in judgment in an otherwise well-led life.”
Troy attorney Raymond S. Sakis, who defended Lafata, said his client is in poor health and suffering from the early stages of dementia.
He said the nurse took advantage of a vulnerable old man and provided sexual favors in return for drugs.
“I made a very serious error,” Lafata said. “I don’t know why I did it. I just wasn’t thinking.”
Kranz said that, even after Lafata knew the DEA was investigating him, he wrote the woman at least one more prescription.
“The doctor, until this experience, had led an exemplary and accomplished life,” Judge Ludington said. “He made significant contributions to the community.”
He said he considered that Lafata’s dementia “likely had an impact on his ability to make good judgments” but he could not “lose sight of the gravity” of the crime.
“This is a serious drug with serious potential consequences,” Ludington said. “Over a period of time, the doctor had the opportunity to reconsider.”
Ludington said it was with no great pleasure that he sentenced the doctor.
“This in no way diminishes the accomplishments this man has tendered in his lifetime,” the judge said.
September 01, 2010
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Caseville pharmacist, former Harbor Beach doctor, sentenced in federal drug case