TAMPA — Dr. Sanjeev Grover's attorney said it was as if the doctor wanted to get caught and go to prison. If so, Grover got his wish Monday.
A federal judge sentenced the Lutz resident to five years in prison to be followed by three years of supervised release for dispensing and distributing illegal prescriptions for the painkiller oxycodone in exchange for thousands of dollars in cash.
"You knew you would get caught," U.S. District Court Judge James Whittemore said. "You knew you would lose your medical license. You knew you would go to jail ... I'm disappointed. Society is disappointed. Your family is disappointed. And most of all, you're disappointed."
The doctor, arrested in October, had pleaded guilty earlier this year.
Grover was the subject of a Tampa Bay Times story published the day of his sentencing. He told a reporter that it was simple greed that motivated him, and he talked of being shaken by the deaths of patients for whom he had written prescriptions.
"To this day, I'm haunted by the memory of these young kids dying," he told the Times. "I'm haunted by the fact that I fed into a system that's totally corrupted, and now it's too late."
Grover's attorney, Patrick Doherty, told Whittemore his client wrote prescriptions knowing he would get caught. Grover engaged in self-loathing, self-destructive behavior, a probable effect of the depression he suffers.
The newspaper story was just another sign of that, Doherty said. "Why would you say that today?" he told the judge, referring to the story. "The answer is, I think he's trying to sabotage what's going on today."
Doherty said Grover was exceptionally intelligent and was capable of earning a good salary without breaking the law, making his behavior all the more difficult to understand.
"It isn't greed," Doherty said. "It's something he's more embarrassed about than greed."
He said Grover was taken into custody last week under the Baker Act and hospitalized after recent talk of suicide.
The sentence could have been significantly worse for Grover, who already has lost his medical license and faced 20 years in prison.
Whittemore's sentence was below the guideline range recommended by prosecutors, which was 87 months to 108 months.
The judge said Grover had mental health issues and had not been linked to any drug-trafficking organization. Whittemore also noted Grover did not have the usual excuse used by doctors charged with writing bad prescriptions — their own drug abuse.
And Grover, the judge noted, has already lost so much. "You have no business ever being entrusted with a patient's care again,'' Whittemore said. "You know that."
What was particularly puzzling about the case, Doherty said, was that Grover made no pretense of treating the patients for whom he wrote prescriptions, as many doctors in similar circumstances do.
Grover, who earned as much as $5,000 a week, worked for pain clinics in Zephyrhills and Palm Harbor. Where some physicians might have given an addict a cursory physical, Grover met with a patient in a Burger King parking lot to hand over his prescriptions.
Grover's wife, and his son and daughter, attended the hearing. His family said Grover's spiral began after they moved to Florida seven years ago. He failed in a practice as a pediatrician, they said, and became depressed.
"It was his depression that caused him to do this," said his son Aditya Grover, a student at the University of South Florida. He said his father is a different man when he properly takes medication to treat his illness. "He's lost so much because of his depression."
The father cried at the son's words. And then Grover addressed the judge, apologizing to his family, offering no excuses for his behavior.
"I took them on an emotional roller-coaster because of my actions," Grover said.
Noting that Grover's son wants to be a physician himself, Whittemore said the sentencing provided something of a lesson.
The judge said, "He's learning a lot more than he needs to learn today."
William R. Levesque can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3432.