MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - A federal jury will soon determine whether a Montgomery doctor was coloring outside ethical lines and prescribing unnecessary controlled substances.
Tuesday the jury heard the first day of testimony in the federal trial of Dr. Richard Stehl.
Stehl is indicted on 113 counts, one of the largest indictments in Alabama’s Middle District in recent memory. The counts include 106 charges of drug distribution, four counts of money laundering, two counts of health care fraud and one count of possession with the intent to distribute.
Court documents state Stehl was prescribing medically unnecessary controlled substances to patients which carried a high risk of dependency. Those patients were required to return frequently for prescriptions, which provided a financial benefit.
During opening statements Tuesday, the government told the jury the case was about three things: money, pills and women.
A prosecutor said evidence will show the defendant had inappropriate relationships with some female patients, some of which exchanged favors for prescriptions. Some of Stehl’s patients are expected to testify during this trial. The defense maintains Stehl is innocent, calling the vast number of counts duplicative in nature. The defense asked the jury to hold out judgement until hearing from their witnesses.
The government’s initial witnesses are employed by the Alabama Board of Medical Examiners. Chief Investigator Edwin Rogers was the first witness to take the stand, followed by Wilson Hunter, general counsel for the Board.
Hunter established that the board investigates complaints against doctors and will take action if the investigation determines a physician is putting patients’ safety at risk or practicing outside the scope of their authority. Hunter said the board entered an agreement with Stehl to monitor his practice following a complaint of sexual boundary issues. The board ordered Stehl to seek psychiatric care and have his doctor report to the board quarterly, which wasn’t carried out on time. It also called for Stehl to have chaperones present while treating female patients and have patients and chaperones fill out forms that vetted whether Stehl was following the guidelines. Hunter said the remarks were positive across the board, however the number of forms collected was far less than expected.
Hunter testified that doctors generally saw around 20 patients a day which would be roughly 100 patients a week. The board received 177 patient satisfaction surveys from Stehl’s office for the five-year monitoring term.
The government also qualified its first expert witness Tuesday, Dr. Carl Gainor - an expert in the practice of pharmacy. Gainor went through the medications listed in the indictment and described each to the jury in detail, explaining the purpose of the drug and how it’s metabolized by the body.
It's unclear how many witnesses the government will call in this case or whether Stehl will take the stand in his defense.
The trial is expected to take up to three weeks.