MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - Richard Stehl, former Montgomery family doctor, was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison Friday.
In December 2019, Stehl was convicted on 101 counts: 94 counts of drug distribution for prescribing controlled substances to patients outside the course of professorial medical practice, two counts of health care fraud, four counts of money laundering by concealment, and one count of money laundering - promotion.
Due to the number of counts and severity of the convictions, the sentencing guidelines range for this case was 360 months to 55,462,200. The government requested a 20-year sentence; the defense requested 8 years.
The jury found Stehl was using his position as a physician to feed his patients' addictions, requiring them to return monthly for prescription refills. The prescriptions for at least 10 patients and their monthly visits were found to be medically unnecessary. Stehl’s office billed for the visits and received reimbursement from private insurance companies, Medicare and Medicaid.
During Friday’s sentencing, District Judge Terry Moorer made it clear that he felt Stehl capitalized on vulnerable patients by prescribing addictive medications that had no medical value based on their health conditions and, in some cases, exerted his power by having sexually inappropriate relationships with patients who relied on him to write their prescriptions.
“He became a drug dealer with a respectable title and a prescription pad," stated Moorer.
Moorer found Stehl to have no remorse for what occurred in his practice, calling his behavior selfish, arrogant, and having no regard for the role his actions played in the lives that he negatively impacted.
For that reason, Moorer stated if he had sentenced Stehl immediately after the jury reached a verdict, he would have likely imposed a sentence ranging between 30 years and life in prison.
“The facts of the case were sufficiently heinous enough to justify a life sentence," he stated. “A life sentence would be an easy choice.”
The judge explained the methodology he used to arrive at the 15-year sentence, which included consideration of the evidence at trial, letters written on behalf of Stehl, and what would equate to a life sentence for the 60-year-old defendant. Moorer pointed out that the Court generally only imposes a life sentence if a life was lost.
“We don’t know if anyone died, but I wouldn’t be surprised…that someone died as a result of what you did.”
Stehl showed no emotion during the sentencing.
The government described Stehl’s sentence as fair, stating it showed the severity of his conduct.
“Dr. Stehl issued prescriptions for dangerous drugs," stated Jonathan Ross, Assistant U.S. Attorney. “He prescribed drugs that were intended to be used to treat anxiety, benzodiazepines, and he got patients hooked on those. He prescribed stimulant medications that are often used to treat ADHD; he got patients addicted to those. The harm that we saw during the trial was remarkable.”
Ross believes the testimony by several of Stehl’s former patients was played a role in the jury’s verdict and, ultimately, the sentence.
“You saw elderly patients who were taking up to 10 pills a day coming in and describing their addiction,” Ross explained. “You saw young people who said that they became addicted to opioids in doctor Stehl’s care and that addiction caused their lives to run off the tracks. The harm that Dr. Stehl caused was striking and so too was the absolute lack of remorse that he showed.”
According to the Alabama Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, or PDMP, which tracks every controlled substance filled in Alabama, including the patient’s name, the prescriber, and date and location where it was filled. Stehl’s PDMP report showed “extensive and alarming” prescribing habits, according to court documents, ranking Stehl’s prescription rate 116 of 12,843 providers in Alabama in 2018. That ranking put Stehl in the top 0.9 percent of all prescribers, according to the court record.