MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) – A lawyer for a Mobile bone doctor who admitted to writing illegal prescriptions urged a judge on Monday to keep his client out for prison, in part, because of the coronavirus.
Attorney Arthur Madden also cited Dr. Thomas Dempsey’s life of charity and lack of criminal history in lobbying for probation. But he also argued that his client’s age, 74, would place him at risk from the virus that is raising alarm across the globe.
"Prisons and jails are extremely susceptible to viral infections,” he said during the sentencing hearing.
U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Beaverstock agreed it was not an idle concern.
“I think about that every time I sentence someone,” he said.
The judge sentenced Dempsey to five years on probation and a $250,000 fine.
Dempsey pleaded guilty in October to writing illegal prescriptions. He already had surrendered his medical license in July 2018 after the state Board of Medical Examiners filed an administrative complaint against him.
Dempsey admitted that while on a trip to Charleston, South Carolina, in June 2018, he left pre-signed prescription sheets for an employee of Orthopedic Quick Care to give out to patients.
Court records show that staff, under Dempsey’s instructions, gave out 37 prescriptions – including for oxycodone – to established patients who had appointments from June 4 to June 8 in 2018. During that period, according to court documents, a physician assistant at the medical practice saw the patients, and employees printed out patients’ prescription information on blank sheets that had Dempsey’s signature.
Dempsey was contrite on Monday.
”I want to apologize for my choices that brought us here today,” he said. “I take full responsibility for my actions.”
Dempsey is one of several area physicians to be ensnared in an ongoing federal crackdown on prescription drug abuse. But Madden said his client was in a different category that some doctors accused of running “pill mills.”
Madden said his client was wrong to allow a physician assistant to dispense prescriptions. But he added that all of the people received the prescriptions were legitimate patients who needed the medication.
Assistant U.S Attorney Christopher Bodnar agreed that the defendant’s conduct was less egregious than some other cases. But he said it is unclear if any of the prescribed pills were diverted to unauthorized uses.
”We can’t say for sure that diversion didn’t occur,” he said.
The administrative complaint filed against Dempsey by the Alabama Board of Medical Examiners indicates that a government agency reported that he was over-prescribing drugs and having inappropriate relationships with patients.
The complaint alleged that Dempsey had “special patients” who would be escorted to the only room at the office that locked.
“The patients are told to fully undress so that Dr. Dempsey can massage them with grapeseed oil,” the complaint states.
The complaint alleged that Dempsey told those patients that grapeseed oil had health benefits and that he would prescribe them higher doses of drugs than other patients.
The complaint cited witnesses who accused the doctor of ordering unnecessary medical tests. For example, according to the complaint, Dempsey ordered x-ray tests every four months for insured patients but every six months for those without insurance.