Judge denies bail for pain clinic doc

By Katherine Wartell

A federal magistrate judge denied bail Thursday to the Manhattan doctor accused of illegally prescribing drugs out of his Manhattan pain clinic. The magistrate sided with prosecutors’ concern that the doctor is a “serious” flight-risk.

In his decision, Magistrate Judge Gary Sebelius told the court that he was troubled by misrepresentations made by Michael Schuster, 53, and his wife, Janet Immer, during the hearing and in post-arrest meetings with authorities.

Schuster, who operated Manhattan Pain and Spine, is accused of authorizing illegal prescriptions to 540 patients while he was out of the country between April 2007 and August 2012. Allegedly, Schuster left pre-signed prescription pads for his unlicensed staff to use around the office.

In a detention hearing continued to Thursday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jared Maag said Schuster intentionally mislead authorities following his arrest by not disclosing certain assets, and also used subterfuge in the years before his arrest to obtain a second passport.

Emily Thompson, an FBI asset forfeiture investigator, testified that between 2009 and 2011, Schuster’s wife had sent approximately $78,000 to a commodities dealer to invest in gold. The purchases were made through cashier’s checks that were admitted as evidence to the court.

But according to Maag those purchases were not disclosed as assets following Schuster’s arrest. “If someone were to flee the country, gold would be the perfect thing to have on hand,” Maag said.

In court Maag suggested Schuster and his wife discussed liquidation of their assets in coded form while speaking over the phone in Russian following his arrest.

He said Schuster also mislead the Department of State when applying for a passport in 2007 by claiming he had never applied for a previous one, despite having been granted one in 2005. “One wonders why he would need to lie,” Maag said, suggesting that someone who travels so frequently would not forget having a passport.

Previously Maag had suggested the couple became aware of an investigation into Schuster’s clinic in the fall of 2012.

Schuster’s attorney, Thomas Bath, argued that everything the couple has done in the last six months runs counter to the prosecution theory. He said Schuster left the country in that time and yet still returned, and noted that the gold purchases were from more than two years ago.

Bath called Schuster a man who has “pulled himself up from his bootstraps,” after coming to the United States as a political refugee from the former Soviet Union with his wife in 1990. He noted that the physician has no criminal history.

But Sebelius said he was concerned by testimony that the couple transferred $1.2 million from a Swiss bank account to a bank in Paraguay in March 2013 for the acquisition of 2,000 acres—a deal that has not yet been finalized. Sebelius said there is no evidence that the money has been transferred out of the bank and would not be available for use.

The couple owns vast amounts of land throughout the United States and around Manhattan, as well as property in Argentina and Canada. In court, Immer said the couple was looking to purchase land in Paraguay because they have a daughter who goes to school there. The couple also has two sons who go to school in the states.

Schuster’s counsel, Bath and Barry Clark, may file a motion of reconsideration on the judge’s decision to order pre-trial detention. Schuster will remain in the custody of the U.S. Marshal’s Office.

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