The Times West Virginian

West Virginia

December 6, 2012

Doctor seeks $88,000 seized in pill mill probe

CHARLESTON — A physician is appealing the forfeiture of $88,000 seized following a raid on the West Virginia pain clinic where she became the state’s top subscriber of controlled substances, court filings show.

Dr. Katherine Hoover has petitioned the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals following a federal judge’s ruling allowing prosecutors to keep the seized funds. The appeals court received records from her case this week.

Federal prosecutors have sought the forfeiture of $2.2 million worth of assets seized as part of the March 2010 search of the Mountain Medical Care Center and related properties. The $88,000 includes around $85,000 from a bank account and $2,900 found in a bureau drawer at the Williamson apartment Hoover shared with another doctor.

Investigators allege the Mingo County clinic, closed since the raid, recklessly provided pain drug prescriptions to thousands of people. Hoover moved to the Bahamas, where she owns property with her husband, following the raid and has not been charged. Another clinic physician, Dr. William Ryckman, pleaded guilty last December to conspiracy to misuse a Drug Enforcement Administration registration number. Hoover’s apartment mate, Dr. Diane Shafer, received a six-month prison term in September for her guilty plea to that charge.

U.S. District Judge John T. Copenhaver Jr. ordered the forfeiture of Hoover’s funds Sept. 28, citing an FBI analysis that traced the bank account’s balance to clinic proceeds. His decision also referred to West Virginia Board of Pharmacy records that showed 355,134 controlled substance prescriptions issued under Hoover’s DEA registration number between December 2002 and February 2010, the most of any prescriber in the state.

Copenhaver rejected arguments from Hoover and her husband, acting without a lawyer in the case, that the seized bank funds reflected family assets unrelated to the clinic. Hoover has also alleged that the federal government has no jurisdiction over the practice of medicine. Copenhaver called those and related arguments by the couple “patently frivolous.” Hoover had twice failed to appear to testify in the civil forfeiture case, and Copenhaver’s ruling orders her to pay $217 as a result.

The judge’s order also called for the prompt return of $27,000 also seized from a Hoover bank account, after prosecutors dropped efforts to have those funds forfeited. The couple had argued that this money had nothing to do with the clinic. The money was returned Oct. 31, according to court filings.

Now in her 60s, Hoover has long advocated a more lenient approach to prescribing drugs to patients suffering chronic pain. But with West Virginia a national leader in overdose deaths per capita, mostly related to prescription drugs, both state and federal officials have made prescription drug abuse a top target. The West Virginia Board of Medicine revoked her license to practice in the state last year, in an unrelated disciplinary case that pre-dates the raid.  

Shafer forfeited $134,550 as part of her plea deal with prosecutors. Both she and Ryckman agreed to cooperate in the pill mill probe. Ryckman saw his six-month sentence and one-year term of supervised release reduced in September to a three-year term of probation, including six months in community confinement, after prosecutors said he had substantially assisted them.

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