TAMPA — As a doctor, Edward Neil Feldman was supposed to relieve pain. Instead, he invited mourning. He was supposed to save lives, but a jury blamed him for three patient deaths.
The last life ruined was his own.
A federal judge Monday sentenced the 76-year-old man to 25 years in prison for heeding the call of greed by indiscriminately prescribing pain medications to addicts at his Pinellas Park clinic.
"If you would have been selling heroin on the streets and three people died, this would have been a much shorter trial and proceeding," U.S. District Judge James D. Whittemore told Feldman. "But that's tantamount to what you've done.
"You became a drug pusher, and you'll have the rest of your life to think about that."
Going into Monday's hearing, Feldman faced a sentence of at least 20 years, and up to life, for charges tied to the deaths. Hours of talks between the judge and attorneys lowered the ceiling to about 30 years, but the bottom of the range was fixed by statute.
Feldman showed no remorse and said little to defend himself. He suggested he didn't realize he was breaking the law. He asked the judge to show mercy on his wife.
Kim Feldman, 66, who managed her husband's office, is scheduled to be sentenced today. Guidelines call for 15 to 19 years, but attorney Tim Taylor has asked for probation.
"She still has a life in front of her," Feldman said. "She has her children to consider. I'm responsible for putting her in this position. … I'm just asking for some relief and some consideration to the circumstances."
The couple has been living in South Tampa.
Both Feldmans were convicted during a 17-day trial in February of multiple counts in a drug and financial conspiracy rooted in the doctor's prescribing of drugs that were not for legitimate medical purposes and outside the scope of ordinary practice.
Only the doctor was held accountable in the 2010 and 2011 deaths of the patients: Joey Mayes, 24; Ricky Gonzalez, 42; and Shannon Wren, 42.
Two relatives of the deceased addressed the court.
Father Connie Lee Wren, 70, said his son liked to collect cars and motorcycles. Even five years after Wren's death, the father said he sees familiar vehicles on the road and momentarily thinks, "That's Shannon," before reality hits him.
Shannon Wren left behind two children and a $3 million estate after back problems led him to the Feldman Orthopedic and Wellness Center.
"All he was looking for was some help," Wren said.
Defense attorney Dale Sisco appealed to the judge to consider Feldman's advanced age and health problems, which include diabetes and worsening cognitive issues.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Shauna Hale scoffed at Feldman's contention that he didn't know better. He had already lost a patient to a drug overdose months before Mayes and Gonzalez died.
Hale also questioned the idea that his age and health should influence a sentence.
She said untold others may have overdosed on drugs prescribed by Feldman. Patients came from all over. The investigation focused on Pinellas County deaths, in part because of thorough record-keeping by the medical examiner there.
"This defendant has lived his life up to his 70s sort of doing whatever he wanted," she said. "He's lived a good life. He's lived a great life."
She compared it with the lives of those who died of drug overdoses on medications prescribed by him.
"The people looking at this case need to know that the problems aren't the addicts," she said. "The problem are the people who make the addicts, who create the addicts. And this defendant helped to create addicts. He kept them on that nipple of oxycodone, of Valium, of Xanax, because he wanted to make money."
She said Feldman couldn't have been any more dangerous if he were Pablo Escobar, the late Colombian drug lord.
When she finished speaking, Wren's father stood in the courtroom and began clapping loudly, a breach of protocol that brought a scolding from the judge.
The judge said he couldn't be swayed by emotion.
But he delivered his own scolding to Feldman.
"As I see this case, Mr. Feldman, it's all about greed," Whittemore said. "You were in the twilight of your career, you decided you wanted to make money the easy way, you found a way to make it and you made millions.
"You got a nice house, nice automobiles, what appears to be a nice family. But it's apparent to me having listened to the testimony and examining the evidence you were not performing your profession consistent with the Hippocratic Oath."
The judge had called Feldman a doctor early in the hearing, but stopped and corrected himself, saying he had used the title only out of habit. Feldman relinquished his license in February.
He said Feldman no longer deserves to be called a doctor.
It was a sentiment Pamela Leverock, 67, mother to victim Gonzalez had expressed earlier, when asking the judge for a maximum possible sentence.
"I can't call him a doctor," she said. "He disgusts me as a doctor."
Contact Patty Ryan at [email protected] or (813) 226-3382.