Weirton doctors acquitted of drug charges in ‘overenthusiastic’ case
WHEELING — Two Weirton doctors were acquitted Thursday after being indicted federally for unlawfully distributing Suboxone, in what their attorneys are calling overenthusiastic prosecution by the federal government.
Drs. Krishan Aggarwal and Cherian John, both of Weirton, were employed at Redirections Treatment Advocates in Weirton, which distributed Suboxone to those struggling with opioid addiction. In May 2018, both men were indicted on charges of conspiracy and unlawful distribution of a controlled substance.
Steve Stannings, John’s attorney, said the grand jury which indicted the pair did so having been given false testimony.
“One of the things we showed at trial was that the DEA agent showed false testimony to the grand jury,” Stannings said. “It was admitted to under oath by the agent.. … The investigator testified that dosing decisions were changed, on days he was out of the office, which was a pretty significant part.
“They were accusing them of fighting on the wrong side of the opioid crisis,” Stannings said. “I thought of it as a ‘friendly fire’ thing. My opinion, I think (former U.S. Attorney General) Jeff Sessions was very interested in showing they were making progress on this war (on opioid abuse), so they were over-aggressive and over-charging anyone they could charge. … The initial indictment, and the investigation, was done very sloppily throughout.”
Mike Nogay, who represented Aggarwal, said he feels the prosecutors went for an easy win, and were rebuffed.
“This was the low-hanging fruit of the opiate crisis,” Nogay said. “The government incorrectly went after the people trying to help with addiction. … We had a 70-year-old man come in to testify. The witnesses almost made the jury cry with testimony about how these doctors saved their lives.”
Aggarwall was charged with seven counts of distribution charges, and John was charged with five counts of distribution. Both men faced one count of conspiracy. They were acquitted after a nine-day trial in federal court before U.S. District Judge Fredrick P. Stamp.
Attorney Ronald Chapman said he hopes this acquittal will allow doctors to breathe easier.
“I think the importance of this acquittal is the message it sends: there’s a lot of people looking at this trial to see if the stance it’s taking on Suboxone is similar to the one it’s taking on opiates,” Chapman said. “Now, it’s pretty clear, based on the jury’s message, that it’s okay for clinics to have unique models designed to reach more people with this kind of medication, and that’s really the important part here.
“I think there’s a lot of Suboxone providers out there who are going to breathe a sigh of relief – ‘I can continue to do good without the federal government knocking on my door’ – and I hope the government will take a new look at the cases they’ve charged here and see if they want to continue pursuing.”
The two doctors, while in very high spirits following their acquittal, declined to comment.
Charges were dropped locally against two other doctors in West Virginia, but in Pennsylvania, Dr. Madhu Aggarwal, of Moon Township, and Dr. Michael Bummer, of Sewickley, entered guilty pleas to charges of conspiracy and unlawfully distributing controlled substances. Both men were among those indicted in May 2018 in the same indictment which included Krishan Aggarwal and John. Dr. Parth Bharill was also among those indicted, and that case will go to trial in West Virginia in September.