'Pill-mill' doctor gets seven years in prison

Richard Minicozzi had deposited $1.5 million in cash in bank accounts. He claimed his signature was forged on prescription slips.
Richard Minicozzi had deposited $1.5 million in cash in bank accounts. He claimed his signature was forged on prescription slips.
Posted: January 31, 2013

Judge J. Curtis Joyner faced a wrenching conflict Tuesday in sentencing convicted pill-mill doctor Richard Minicozzi in federal court in Philadelphia.

Joyner saw and heard from a defiant 79-year-old man who made millions in cash by selling prescription medicine inappropriately and illegally.

But Joyner also saw and heard from Minicozzi's three adult daughters. All have advanced academic degrees, but two have a neurological disorder that means they have lived their lives in wheelchairs, which they used to come before Joyner and plead for leniency for their father.

After delivering a lecture on the "epidemic" of misuse of prescription pain medication and warning that doctors cannot "be dispensing them willy nilly without repercussions," Joyner went below the sentencing guidelines by giving Minicozzi seven years in prison, three years on probation, a $40,000 fine, and possible forfeiture of property. The guidelines called for a minimum of 121/2 years.

"You might not know it, Dr. Minicozzi, but I'm doing you a favor," Joyner said, referring to Minicozzi's daughters.

A jury found Minicozzi guilty in March 2012 on 18 of 19 charges related to distributing controlled substances from a rowhouse in South Philadelphia between January 2005 and September 2010.

Minicozzi has 45 days before he reports to prison, but his family knows he might not walk out alive, given that he has prostate cancer, a blood disorder, and slight dementia, according to his lawyer, Jeff Miller.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Mary Kay Costello did not cross-examine the five family members who took the stand to testify for Minicozzi. But when a Drexel neurologist, Augustin Legido, hired by the family, spoke of Minicozzi and his wife as "angels" and said the wheelchair-bound daughters, Alessia and Viola, were completely dependent on their parents, Costello challenged him.

Costello noted that both went to college without their parents in class and that Viola, 32, went to school out of town (Johns Hopkins in Baltimore and business school at Duke in North Carolina) and now works in a bank. Alessia, 37, has three degrees from the University of Pennsylvania, including a master's in bioethics.

"It is a significant amount of jail time, given his circumstances," Costello said afterward.

But Joyner had questions for William Pomilla, a doctor married to Minicozzi's third daughter, Arianna. After Pomilla said that Minicozzi could be "naive" to the wily ways of "manipulative patients," Joyner asked about the $1.5 million in cash that Minicozzi had deposited in bank accounts.

"Does that follow, with someone who is 'naive' to the real world and not aware?" Joyner asked. "When does the alarm go off in a doctor's mind?"

Despite Joyner's suggestion, it was unclear how remorseful Minicozzi was about the situation.

After not testifying during his trial, Minicozzi on Tuesday mostly blamed the people to whom he sold Xanax and Vicodin for cash, claimed he was trying to rehabilitate them, and said that he did not charge them for office visits because they were poor and that the undercover videotapes of him dispensing drugs without an examination were rare exceptions.

And the prescriptions written for the more highly addictive oxycodone for people he never saw?

"My signature," Minicozzi said, "was forged on a majority of them."

Contact David Sell at dsell@ phillynews.com or 215-854-4506. Read his blog at www.philly.com/phillypharma and on Twitter @phillypharma.


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