TAMPA — Year after year, Dr. Edward Neil Feldman prescribed pain medications to addicts, some of whom overdosed. The 76-year-old orthopedist defended himself in court this week by saying people fooled him to get drugs.
Fooled or not, he was convicted Wednesday of illegally prescribing oxycodone and other substances that a jury said led to the deaths of three patients: Joey Mayes, 24, Ricky Gonzalez, 42, and Shannon Wren, 42.
The crimes could put the Tampa man, who last practiced in Pinellas Park, in prison for life.
"You don't get to say you're blind when you've got your head in the sand," federal prosecutor Shauna Hale said in her closing argument Tuesday. "You don't get to say that you've been fooled when you refuse to take the blinders off."
The doctor's wife, Kim Feldman, 66, was convicted along with her husband of five related counts in a $5.7 million drug and money conspiracy.
She, too, faces prison time, though only the doctor was charged and convicted in the deaths. In each case, the jury found he prescribed controlled narcotics without legitimate medical purpose and outside the course of normal practice.
The courts are increasingly holding physicians accountable for such conduct. In Los Angeles, a pill mill doctor was recently sentenced to 30 years in prison after a jury blamed her for the deaths of three patients.
On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge James D. Whittemore ordered both Feldmans taken into custody and scheduled sentencing for May 23.
It was the government's second shot at trying the case — the first effort in November ended in a mistrial — and it was the doctor's second felony conviction. He was put on probation in 2004 for taking kickbacks from an MRI clinic, which led to a brief suspension of his medical license.
This jury never learned any of that. Nor did they learn that the three patients who died were just a few of those who overdosed after they had been prescribed pain medications by Feldman.
"The government had 16 dead people to choose from in this case," Hale had advised the judge with the jury out of the room.
In reports last year, the Tampa Bay Times told of pill bottles bearing Feldman's name found at numerous overdose scenes.
The Florida Department of Health, which oversees the Board of Medicine, has cases pending against his license that were put on hold until federal charges were resolved. He was already under a judge's order to abstain from practicing medicine.
Wednesday's verdicts came in the fourth week of a trial that showed the illicit side of pain management clinics, with talk of patient track marks, parking lot police stakeouts and a doctor with a high-speed cash counter.
Hale suggested Feldman's prescribing practices were influenced more by the physician's greed than the patients' ploys. The prosecutor said he handed out addictive drugs like they were candy and ignored red flags signaling abuse.
The doctor's attorney, Dale Sisco, presented him as a man in the twilight of a long career whose decisions — to open a pain clinic, to put assets in his wife's name — had been shaped by poor health and advancing age.
Much of that came to light as Sisco questioned Feldman, eliciting assurances that he considered himself an advocate for his patients.
"If someone was under my care, I felt I had to do the best I could for them," Feldman said.
Sisco told jurors Feldman was unfairly targeted by the Drug Enforcement Administration and was guilty of nothing more than incomplete recordkeeping.
Feldman, according to testimony, had prescribed pain medications to several undercover agents who posed as patients, including one who rated his pain as just 2 on a scale of 1 to 10.
"He must have hit me at a weak moment," Feldman testified. "I didn't intend to give him the medication, and right now I can't express why I did."
Kim Feldman's attorney, Timothy Taylor, described her as a square peg in the DEA's round-holed conspiracy investigation, telling jurors she had little involvement in the clinic.
He said she was charged only so that the government could seize the couple's assets, which include the building that houses the Feldman Orthopedic and Wellness Center on Park Boulevard in Pinellas Park and a house in Tampa's Ballast Point area.
Clinic staff had described a greater role, testifying that she told them to stop running so many urine screens or they would all be out of a job.
She never took the stand. But when her husband did, he denied any wrongdoing on her part.
He disputed staff claims that the couple discouraged use of the state drug monitoring database.
He told Hale, under questioning, that he was vigilant in his prescribing practices.
But the prosecutor threw one example after another at him suggesting otherwise. His own incomplete records left him flat-footed, unable to prove that he had good reasons to provide such drugs to people whose urine screens suggested they were abusing them.
"I'm sure we dealt with it and I did inquire," he said of a man with unexplained methadone. Of another patient, he said, "There's nothing in the chart but I'm sure we broached the issues."
Contact Patty Ryan at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3382.