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Wednesday, October 29, 2003 - Page updated at 02:42 P.M.
Former UW doctor faces criminal probe over drugs
Federal and state investigators agreed yesterday to conduct a joint criminal investigation into the drug-dispensing practices of former University of Washington team doctor William Scheyer, two senior law-enforcement officials said last night.
The wide-ranging investigation will not only examine Scheyer's activities but also the conduct of trainers, coaches and athletes who worked with Scheyer on the UW softball team and in the university's athletic department, one official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The investigation will be conducted by the U.S. Attorney's Office, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration and the State Patrol's drug-investigation unit, the official said.
State Patrol spokesman Nelsa Brodie confirmed today that three detectives and a sergeant from the patrol's narcotics unit will perform investigate work for the U.S. Attorney's Office, along with the Drug Enforcement Administration. All of the patrol's investigators have experience with cases involving pharmaceuticals, Brodie said.
Brodie said the investigation would also focus on Edward Matsuwaka, a former pharmacist in Seattle, who provided medications to Scheyer.
In a prepared statement, Washington State Patrol Chief Ronal Serpas said the first step will be to outline the scope of the investigation.
"The State Patrol plans to work this case with a sense of urgency, however, will work exhaustively to find the facts and uncover all leads," Serpas said.
Serpas said the U.S. Attorney's Office plans to review the investigation and bring charges if warranted.
State medical investigators who uncovered evidence that led to the suspension of Scheyer's medical license Oct. 17 also are likely to participate.
Scheyer's attorney, Cyrus Vance Jr., said last night that Scheyer "has had a long and distinguished career as a well-respected sports doctor" and, since 1986, has worked closely with officials at UW including trainers, administrators and other personnel in the athletic department to provide medical care to its athletes. Scheyer has "cooperated to date with state investigators in their ongoing investigation, and will continue to do so," Vance said.
Vance previously represented Dr. H. Richard Winn, a former UW neurosurgeon who was one of two prominent doctors convicted of felonies in the medical-school billing investigation. Winn, who pleaded guilty to obstructing the investigation and resigned from the UW, was placed on probation and ordered to perform community service.
Scheyer worked with various UW athletic programs, including the football and basketball teams, from 1986 to 1999. He remained as a team doctor and then a volunteer for the UW softball team until he was removed by Athletic Director Barbara Hedges shortly before his license was suspended.
UW officials declined to comment last night on the criminal investigation involving Scheyer.
The state medical commission suspended Scheyer's license after investigators found he improperly provided thousands of painkillers, tranquilizers, sedatives and prescription drugs to trainers and members of the softball team, sometimes without medical examinations or documentation.
Scheyer, 76, admitted in a signed statement to state medical investigators that he had improperly passed out medications to athletes and trainers, written prescriptions for patients who never received the drugs, and failed to keep a record of thousands of doses of narcotic pain pills, muscle relaxants, steroid gels and other medications. Scheyer prescribed testosterone gel, a steroid, in a softball player's name. State officials think they were for his own back problems, but investigators haven't ruled out that steroids were provided to others.
The state medical investigation uncovered that Scheyer opened unauthorized accounts, some with the UW's name, at pharmacies in Seattle and Kirkland, bypassing the UW's system in which all prescriptions to UW athletes were to be filled by a campus pharmacy.
As part of his statement to state medical investigators, Scheyer admitted he conspired with Matsuwaka to obtain medications for UW athletes. In some cases, drugs prescribed to one athlete were given to trainers to provide to others.
UW officials launched an internal inquiry into the matter last week.
The criminal investigation will focus on whether federal or state laws governing the distribution of prescription drugs, particularly highly controlled medications, were broken.
One federal law makes it a felony to "acquire or obtain possession of a controlled substance by misrepresentation, fraud, forgery, deception, or subterfuge."
A key issue will be whether drugs were dispensed for a legitimate medical purpose, law-enforcement officials said.
The Drug Enforcement Administration's drug-diversion unit will handle that agency's role in the investigation. That unit concentrates on the illegal diversion of prescription drugs and controlled substances.
Vance, Scheyer's attorney, said his client, in caring for UW athletes, has worked "tirelessly, in his free time, as a volunteer, and out of devotion to the University."
Patti Styles, who worked as Scheyer's nurse from 1989 to 1997, defended him yesterday, calling him a responsible doctor who cared deeply for athletes.
"He's a good man, a good doctor," she said, noting he understood the pressures placed on major-college athletes who were expected to perform and wanted to play. Styles said she never witnessed Scheyer do anything improper, calling him a "man of integrity, honesty."
Steve Miletich: 206-464-3302 or firstname.lastname@example.org;
Mike Carter: 206-464-3706 or email@example.com
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