A Doctor Wrongfully Receives Life in Prison for Prescribing Pain Killers.
Doctor Robert L. Ignasiak (affectionately called Doctor Bob by the locals of Freeport, Florida) has been convicted by the United States Federal Government of prescribing controlled substances to patients without determining a sufficient medical necessity.
After enduring an egregiously unfair trial, Dr. Bob was sentenced to 30 years in prison. In an emotional letter to his son, Doctor Ignasiak lamented, “I have been rewarded for my 20 years of medical service to my small community with life in prison.”
As the small town of Freeport, Florida’s first and only doctor, Dr. Bob has cared for thousands of patients. He founded the Freeport Medical Clinic in 1985 and has served the local community for more than two decades. As one former employee who worked at the clinic affirmed during the trial, “if somebody was sick in Freeport and needed to see a doctor that particular day, they would come to see Dr. Ignasiak.”
His son, Robert Ignasiak III, spoke proudly of how his father helped the community; “He sponsored the local baseball team and was always at the games volunteering as an on-site doctor. He would go out of his way to make house calls to his patients when they were too sick to come in. He was always thinking about how to help everyone he met.”
In 2005, Bob received a significant offer for a real estate investment he had made in the early 90’s. He sold the property and decided to retire. After investing so much in to his community and medical practice, he wanted to spend more time with his wife and four children. As he finished his last year at FMC, he thought about how nice it would be to live a quiet life.
A SWAT team stormed his home in the middle of the night and arrested him in front of his wife and two young children.
Two months after he retired, a joint task force subpoenaed his medical charts and began an aggressive investigation. The Diversion Team, consisting of the FBI, DEA, Walton County Sheriff’s Department, and Florida Department of Law Enforcement started to become suspicious of Bob’s activities after two of his patients supposedly overdosed on controlled substances. In March of 2008 a SWAT team stormed his home in the middle of the night and arrested him in front of his wife and two of his children.
After a controversial trial, Bob was convicted of 12 counts of healthcare fraud and 31 counts of illegally distributing controlled substances.
In 2012, Bob’s convictions were reversed on appeal, and he was released from custody pending a retrial. The retrial was under the same judge and Bob was running out of financial resources. With a high probability of being convicted again, Bob became despondent and was filled with thoughts of suicide.
“A failed attempt to drown myself resulted in the realization that I had too much of a will to live.”
On October 31, 2012, Bob attempted to commit suicide. In his words, “A failed attempt to drown myself resulted in the realization that I had too much of a will to live.” Tired and feeling hopeless, he ran from authorities. A warrant was issued for his arrest and he was arrested in Coral Springs, Florida, in September 2013. His retrial was moved to December 2, 2013.
In October 2013, Ignasiak pled guilty to 12 counts of health care fraud, 29 counts of illegally distributing controlled substances, and one count of failing to appear for trial. He was sentenced to 30 years and is currently at the FCI Colman Low Penitentiary in west Florida.
So why was Doctor Bob arrested and thrown in prison for 30 years?
During the late 2000’s many doctors were taking advantage of the money to be made off opioids such as Oxycodone and Hydrocodone. They took advantage of their prescribing power to generate significant additional revenue for themselves . These ‘Pill Mills’ were a quick way for drug abusers to get pills without justifying a medical need for them. Under President Bush’s crusade in the War on Drugs, the Drug Enforcement Administration worked to punish these healthcare professionals. During the DEA’s ‘Pill Mill’ crackdown, Dr. Bob was put through a series of biased and unjust trials that branded him as one of these abusive doctors.
The Government’s stance was that “Ignasiak had prescribed unnecessary or excessive quantities of controlled substances without a legitimate medical purpose and outside the usual course of professional practice.” Their goal was to show that Bob spent “insufficient time” with patients in their check-ups and wrote an “excessive number of prescriptions.” They called it a “scheme to defraud health care providers by billing for office visits when they were, in reality not more than drug distribution.”
But the glove doesn’t fit the hand.
A small portion of Bob’s prescriptions included controlled substances to help ease his patient’s symptoms. Many of his patients had arthritic problems or anxiety issues and Dr. Bob treated them with prescription painkillers. He performed full check ups before prescribing medication and periodically ordered lab tests to make sure patients weren’t abusing their medication. During his trial, every patient that testified claimed they were examined before receiving prescriptions. He also prescribed Fentanyl patches that he required to be returned to him after use so he could monitor how his patients used drugs.
Dr. Ignasiak also never exceeded the diagnostic-specific dosages and quantities listed in the Physician’s Desk Reference (A DEA approved set of guidelines that aim to objectively outline how and why doctors should prescribe medication). Dr. Leonard Rappa, a pharmacology expert, testified to this during Dr. Bob’s trial. Dr. Rappa also documented that the diagnoses listed in Dr. Bob’s patient charts were consistent with indications listed in the PDR. The prosecution never disputed Dr. Rappa’s testimonial.
The Government only performed 2 independent examinations out of the 20 patients charged in the indictment- the two patients that died of overdosing. Furthermore, they only called on one patient to testify. Rather than calling upon the remaining 17 patients, the Government relied heavily on the testimony of Dr. Jordan as an ‘expert’, who did not interview or examine a single patient. Instead, he testified extensively based on his review of Dr. Ignasiak’s patient charts.
Dr. Jordan had a hidden criminal history that included impersonating a Federal Air Marshall and boarding a commercial plane with a loaded gun at least 8 times.
Records unsealed after the case showed that Dr. Jordan had a hidden criminal history that included “impersonating a Federal Air Marshall and boarding a commercial plane with a loaded gun at least 8 times” before being discovered by the TSA. Despite this, the Government still uses him as an ‘expert witness’, and pays him well for it.Dr. Jordan has testified that he has been paid $300/hour and “around $30,000” to testify in this and other cases where a doctor is the defendant.
And yet, even as Dr. Jordan testified that two of the patients would not have overdosed if not for Dr. Ignesiak’s negligence, he contradicted himself by acknowledging that it may have been reasonable to treat them with controlled substances, including pain medication on some occasions. He also stated that other health care providers had prescribed the same, or similar, controlled substances to the same patients.
The overdoses of the two patients were also suspect. Dr. David Fowler, the Chief Medical Examiner for the State of Maryland, reviewed the autopsy reports that were admitted during the trial. He criticized the delays in the autopsies and testified that toxicology reports can be misleading due to the “redistribution” of drugs in the body after death. Based on a review of the autopsy reports, Dr. Fowler opined that the deaths were either “natural,” the result of suicides, or uncertain.
Dr. Fowler opined that the deaths were either “natural,” the result of suicides, or uncertain.
The most frustrating part is that at the time of the trial, objective guidelines to what is considered prescribing “too many” controlled substances did not exist. When the Controlled Substances Act was passed into law, guidelines were developed by a multi-agency task force but were subsequently rescinded, with nothing to take their place. The DEA took full advantage of this and went on a ‘witch hunt’ for suspicious doctors. According to Bloomberg, “Those who cross over the sometimes hazy line separating legal from illegal handling of the pills often watch as federal agents suspend their licenses, seize their products, and arrest them in high-profile busts with gothic code names.”
When standards were finally approved by the Board of Medicine in 2011, Bob’s prescribed dosages were significantly lower than the maximum number of subscriptions. The limit for schedule II and III medications was 3 prescriptions per patient, per doctor, per day, up to a maximum of 150 prescriptions per physician. During Bob’s trial, the prosecution presented evidence that Bob wrote an average of 30 prescriptions per day, never exceeding 3 prescriptions per patient, per day. Unlike the subjective opinions of Dr. Jordan, this is objective proof that Bob was not excessive or ‘outside the usual course of professional practice.’
Unfortunately, the Judge and Jury did not agree, which is why Bob is sitting in prison trying to prove his innocence.
Recklessly prescribing medication that could hurt patients, especially for personal gain, should be a punishable crime. Prosecuting doctors with minimal evidence and a bag of assumptions should not. Aside from framing innocent healers and ruining their lives, these witch hunts will negatively effect the health of patients who need these medications. As Bob put it , “[The Government] needs to realize that when doctors feel threatened, they won’t be willing to prescribe the appropriate medicine, and patients will suffer unnecessarily.”
If Bob’s story resonated with you, please considering helping us in our mission to free Bob. Sign our Whitehouse petition to get President Obama to review this case. If we can get 100,000 signatures within 30 days, there’s a chance that President Obama may pardon Bill.
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