Former Tredyffrin practitioner has been battling drug charges for more than a decade
By Kathleen Brady Shea, Managing Editor, The Times
The legal travails of a Chester County family practitioner may have begun as early as 1979 when doctors at Lankenau Hospital evaluating him as a medical student deemed him unfit to pursue that career.
Undaunted, Richard A. Brown, 68, of Tredyffrin Township, eventually obtained a medical degree through a succession of foreign medical schools, unsuccessfully suing his Pennsylvania evaluators for defamation.
Decades later, after two convictions for drug offenses and evidence that Brown obtained his medical license fraudulently, the state Superior Court ordered a new trial last month for the embattled former physician, a decision appealed last week by prosecutors in a case that continues to defy resolution.
The appellate court ruled that evidence Brown obtained his medical degree by altering grades and forging signatures should not have been allowed to prove that he prescribed drugs in bad faith. Brown was sentenced in April 2011 to eight to 16 years in prison after a jury concluded that he dispensed painkillers to six patients, some of them addicts, between June 2002 and 2004 without even a cursory exam.
Chester County Judge Ronald C. Nagle ordered Brown to begin serving the prison term immediately, but now, after spending less than a year and a half in jail, Brown is out on bail to await a new trial. He has spent more than a decade fighting criminal charges, a period that is still shy of the 14 years it took him to obtain a medical license.
During the previous pretrial proceedings, Nagle dismissed charges related to Brown’s procurement of his license on the grounds that the statute of limitations had expired. Senior Deputy Attorney General Nancy Hartsough had argued that the fraud was perpetuated every two years when Brown renewed his license, eliminating the timeliness problem. But Nagle rejected that view.
However, he agreed with prosecutors that the jury could factor Brown’s questionable education into a determination about whether his dispensing of controlled substances met accepted medical standards.
The Superior Court disagreed, ruling that the “decades-old” evidence “bore a scant relationship to the actual charges being pursued.”
Prosecutors, who include Chester County Assistant District Attorney Christopher de Barrena-Sarobe, have disputed that reasoning.
“If a medical doctor does not have the necessary training and license, it logically follows that his diagnosis and treatment of patients may not be sound, and it is clearly not done in good faith,” Chester County Chief Deputy District Attorney Nicholas J. Casenta wrote in the appeal.
Information about Brown’s medical license might not have even surfaced if Brown had laid low after his 2003 drug conviction. He was first arrested in December 2001; during a search of his office, detectives found moldy, outdated medicine bottles and a potato chip bag, not patient records, in a filing cabinet, court records said. In a plea agreement, he received probation for improperly dispensing narcotics.
A short time later, detectives testified that they got information that Brown had resumed his illicit activities at his home-office, located a few blocks from the Strafford train station. Brown responded to his second arrest with a team of high-profile defense attorneys, a move that led to additional scrutiny of his background.
Investigators said they amassed evidence that Brown falsified documents from two of the three foreign medical schools he attended and submitted forged evaluations for clinical rotations he either never performed or failed. A state official testified that Brown “would not have been issued” a medical license if the State Department had known his transcripts had been faked.
In addition, investigators said they found improprieties in the tax filings of Brown and his wife, Janice Kressen Brown, which led to separate tax charges against the couple, court records said. The state eventually withdrew those charges, citing judicial economy.
Assisted by a legal team that has included Richard Sprague, members of the Lamb McErlane firm, and Stephen I. Baer, Brown has steadfastly maintained his innocence, insisting that he appropriately helped patients with pain management.
Unless the state Supreme Court decides to intervene, another Chester County jury may determine his fate.