Joseph P. Zolot, MD, a physiatrist in Needham, Massachusetts, and his nurse practitioner Lisa M. Pliner, were acquitted May 15, 2015 in a re-trial of their federal case. This case shows the importance of publicity and public outrage over the attacks on good, compassionate physicians. It is important for this case to be spread across the country so that more people are informed of the evil being perpetrated by our Justice Department.
Dr. Zolot is a Russian immigrant, coming to the United States in 1988. Members of the region’s Russian-Jewish community came to his defense, holding him up as a symbol for individual rights. A petition described Zolot’s medical practice as a “last resort and hope” for patients struggling with debilitating pain. The response to his situation highlights the tightknit community’s sensitivity toward perceived overreaching by the government.
Following the raid on his office, an Oct. 1, 2007 blog posting titled “Who Framed Dr. Zolot?” on the Jewish Russian Telegraph site, readers were advised: “Even if we don’t care about Doctor Zolot and his patients (though we should), we should care about our own freedom.” They called on people to “Stop Criminalization of Medicine; Help Dr. Zolot.” Community members were concerned by what they describe as a lack of government guidelines in regulating the prescription drugs used to manage pain. “Physicians . . . need to have clear guidelines how to practice”
We have to get this word out. As Dr. Zolot’s attorney, Howard M. Cooper stated, “This is an extremely important case,” Cooper accused the government of overreaching with the prosecution and said: “Hopefully this jury verdict will allow doctors to do what they are supposed to do—use the tools available to them to treat patients.” But that’s not going to happen until more Americans realize the truth in these cases—that government is fabricating law to create crimes that don’t exist against doctors doing the job they are pledged to do by oath and by creed.
The defense argued that Zolot and Pliner offered the best treatment, based on their good faith medical judgment, to patients suffering from serious injuries and were not at fault if they were deceived by patients who were secretly abusing the drugs. This argument should be obvious in every case. But in most cases, jurors are so stigmatized by the tactics of the prosecution, they don’t see the truth.
Dr. Zolot voluntarily surrendered his medical license in 2008 after state authorities launched proceedings to revoke it, calling his practice a “threat to the public”. This shows how the state Boards of Medicine are just as much involved in these illegal attacks on doctors for political purposes. Russel Aims, their spokesman, stated “The resignation permanently removes the physician from practice. He’s never going to see licensure anywhere, ever. And he’ll never practice in Massachusetts ever.”
They were indicted March 2011 on eight counts of conspiracy to distribute and distribution of controlled substances, and distribution of controlled substances causing deaths.
The indictment offset the basis for exemption of physicians using the Controlled Substance Act by statin the usual “prescribing drugs without a legitimate medical purpose and not in the usual course of professional practice”. The indictment alleged that they:
- prescribed drugs in amounts and frequency that were likely to, and did, cause addiction, and overdose and death in some patients;
- failed to conduct adequate physical examinations;
- Prescribed narcotics to individuals despite indications that they were abusing, misusing, or distributing.
The attack, starting in 2001, involved the usual joint FBI, HHS, DEA, IRS-CID and Needham Police Department—lots of years of job security.
In order to sway public opinion and the jury pool and misuse the statutes of Title 21, the government used inflammatory phrases in the media, examples of which are:
United States Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz: “The conduct alleged in today’s indictment is incomprehensible. I hope it sends a strong message that the government will aggressively prosecute any medical professional who facilitates the distribution of dangerous and addictive drugs purely for financial gain.”
Special DEA Agent Steve Derr called them drug pushers: “DEA investigates a myriad of criminals and criminal organizations, from international drug investigations to doctors illegally prescribing dangerous and addictive drugs, as alleged in this case. We pursue all persons who illegally distribute drugs, regardless of their title. A license to practice medicine is not a license to deal, and that is precisely what is alleged in this indictment.”
Special Agent in Charge of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General Susan J. Waddell got in her two cents worth to get her credit, “HHS-OIG is committed to ensuring that it is not compromised by greed and illegal prescribing, as alleged in this case.”
When they went to trial, Dr. Zolot and Ms. Pliner faced possible life imprisonment, and a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years’ imprisonment for each of the distribution resulting in death counts, and a fine of up to $4 million.
The first trial was held in August, 2014. In his closing arguments, the prosecutor again compared the doctor’s care of his patients to a drug dealer, saying he “put vulnerable patients on powerful opioids, kept them high, and collected every month.”
One jury holdout for “not guilty” reported how she was bullied by the other jurors. Lucky she stuck to her guns and a mistrial was called.
The second trial came as the state faced a growing opioid abuse epidemic. The original indictments of distribution causing the deaths of six patients were dropped as a result of the US Supreme Court ruling in another case that prosecutors had to prove a drug dealer was responsible for a death because the drug he or she provided was the exact and only cause of death.
In spite of the fact that corrupt action on the part of the Department of Justice brought them to trial and his life was destroyed for 8 long years, Dr. Zolot’s main concern after his acquittal was still the care of chronic pain patients:
“My sincere hope is that doctors hearing about this verdict will realize that they should not be intimidated by the federal government in prescribing pain medication to their patients who are suffering in chronic pain,” There are patients who suffer because doctors are afraid to treat them because they fear discipline or prosecution. That hurts the patient. I am grateful to the jury for seeing the importance of this case.”