SCRANTON—The United States Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, announced that Dr. Fuhai Li, age 53, of Milford, was found guilty of unlawfully prescribing oxycodone and other opioids to 23 former patients, including a Honesdale woman who died as a result of using the pills. Dr. Li faces a mandatory 20-year prison sentence for causing the woman’s death.
Five week trial
The verdict was announced June 5, 2018 by the Middle District.
According to United States Attorney David J. Freed, the jury also convicted Dr. Li of unlawfully prescribing oxycodone to a pregnant woman outside the usual course of medical practice and not for a legitimate medical purpose. That woman gave birth to an opioid-dependent baby 11 days after Dr Li prescribed her 120 oxycodone 30 milligram tablets. A neo-natal specialist testified that the baby spent ten days in intensive care withdrawing from the oxycodone prescribed to his mother by Dr Li.
During the five-week trial before Senior U.S. District Court Judge A. Richard Caputo, prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney’s Office presented the testimony of 19 former patients and three former employees of Dr. Li, eight pharmacists, three other physicians, an expert on pain management, the medical records for 39 former patients of Dr Li, and the testimony of federal law enforcement agents and investigators from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and its Diversion Division, and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) special agents.
Had clinic in Milford
Li owned and operated the Neurology and Pain Management Center in Milford Borough, Pike County, Pennsylvania. Li was a physician licensed by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and authorized to prescribe Schedule II controlled substances for legitimate medical purposes and in the usual course of professional practice.
The jury found that Dr Li repeatedly prescribed oxycodone and other opioids outside the usual course of medical practice and not for a legitimate medical purpose.
Former patients testified that Dr Li repeatedly prescribed them high doses of oxycodone and other opioids every month over several years without performing medical examinations and without verifying their prior medical treatment.
Evidence was presented that Dr Li repeatedly falsified patient medical records and made material omissions in those records in an effort to legitimize the unlawful prescriptions.
Prosecutors presented evidence that between August 2011 and January 2015, Dr. Li wrote 26,985 prescriptions for Schedule II controlled substances, 99.37% of which were written for opioids. This included 18,115 prescriptions for oxycodone, of which 12,129 were written for oxycodone 30 milligrams, the highest dosage available in short acting oxycodone. Other opioids frequently prescribed by Dr. Li included methadone, OxyContin, hydrocodone and hydromorphone.
Former patients testified that they became dependent and addicted to opioids as a result of Dr. Li’s prescriptions. Evidence also established that Dr. Li prescribed high dose opioids to patients who he knew had recently completed drug rehabilitation and detoxification programs, resulting in those patients becoming addicted again to opioid pain medication.
Some re-sold the drug for heroin
Several former patients testified that they earned money by selling drugs prescribed for them by Dr. Li and used part of the money to buy heroin to support their own addiction. Some of those former patients also subsequently sold heroin on the streets of Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
One former female patient testified that she had sex with Dr Li on almost every visit to his office during a four-year time period. Dr Li prescribed that patient high doses of various opioids for approximately four years. Two additional former female patients testified to inappropriate sexual conduct by Dr Li during office visits.
The jury also convicted Dr. Li of using two medical offices for the purpose of unlawfully prescribing opioids. Dr. Li’s first medical office was located at 104 Bennett Avenue in Milford, and the second office was located at 200 3rd Street in Milford.
DEA agents and investigators executed search warrants at Dr Li’s Milford office and his residences in Milford and East Stroudsburg on January 29, 2015. Agents seized electronic medical records from Dr Li’s office, and seized more than $1 million in cash, which was hidden under beds and in closets in his residences. Evidence at trial showed that many of Dr Li’s patients paid cash for visits, drug screens, office tests, and injections.
The money laundering convictions related to Dr Li’s use of criminal proceeds to pay off the mortgage on his East Stroudsburg residence on November 19, 2012, and to purchase his 200 3rd Street, Milford office on August 29, 2013. Dr Li had $385,572.05 wired from a bank account funded in part by criminal proceeds to pay off the mortgage on the East Stroudsburg residence. He subsequently withdrew $158,699.30 from a bank account funded in part by criminal proceeds to purchase the Milford office.
Dr Li was also convicted of tax evasion for the tax years 2011, 2012, and 2013. An IRS agent testified that Dr Li underreported his taxable income for those years by more than $800,000.
After the jury’s verdict, prosecutors asked that Dr. Li be immediately detained pending sentencing. Judge Caputo released Dr. Li under conditions, which include electronic monitoring by the U.S. Probation Office. U.S. Attorney Freed intends to appeal the release order.
The jury’s verdict also included the forfeiture to the United States of $1,030,960 in cash that was seized from Dr Li’s two residences; $1,036,079.36 seized from various bank accounts; real property located at 200 3rd Street, Milford (Dr Li’s medical office); and real property located at 4005 Milford Landing Drive, Milford.
“Dr. Li’s criminal conduct and actions were reprehensible, as shown by the jury’s verdict on all of the charges,” said Jonathan A. Wilson, Special Agent in Charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Philadelphia Field Division. “My office will continue to work vigorously with all of our law enforcement partners and the U.S. Attorney’s Office to address the opioid epidemic that is gripping our region and nation at large. The investigation and arrest of rogue registrants who choose to betray their oath and professional obligation is a key part of the DEA’s mission to address this crisis.”
"Fuhai Li’s attempt to evade taxes by hiding income and filing false returns was a theft from the American public,” said IRS-CI Special Agent in Charge Guy Ficco. “Today Fuhai Li has been held accountable for his actions.”
The maximum penalty under federal law is life in prison, a term of supervised release following imprisonment, and a fine. The drug distribution resulting in death charge also carries a mandatory minimum penalty of 20 years’ imprisonment.
Part of wider drug probe
The four-year long investigation in this case was conducted by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and its Diversion Division, the Internal Revenue Service’s Criminal Investigation Division, and the Pike County District Attorney’s Office. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Michelle Olshefski, Francis P. Sempa, and Evan Gotlob prosecuted the case.
This case was prosecuted as part of a district wide initiative to combat the nationwide epidemic regarding the use and distribution of heroin and other opioids. Led by the United States Attorney’s Office, the Heroin Initiative targets heroin and opioid traffickers operating in the Middle District of Pennsylvania and is part of a coordinated effort among federal, state and local law enforcement agencies to locate, apprehend, and prosecute individuals who commit opioid trafficking offenses.
This case is also part of Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN), a program bringing together all levels of law enforcement and the communities they serve to reduce violent crime, including violent crime caused by drug trafficking, and to make neighborhoods safer for everyone. Attorney General Jeff Sessions reinvigorated PSN in 2017 as part of the Department’s renewed focus on targeting violent criminals, directing all U.S. Attorney’s Offices to work in partnership with federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement and the local community to develop effective, locally-based strategies to reduce violent crime.