Doctor in painkiller 'pill mill' case sentenced to five years

Staff writer

A judge sentenced a urologist who practiced in Anne Arundel to five years in prison Thursday for his role in two “pill mills” that gave patients prescriptions for thousands of doses of powerful and addictive painkillers.

Dr. Kofi Shaw-Taylor, 68, was sentenced by Anne Arundel County Circuit Court Judge Michael Wachs to two five-year concurrent sentences after pleading guilty to a charge of Medicaid fraud and another for conspiracy to commit Medicaid fraud. Those sentences, however, will be cut by nearly a year because of time he spent in home detention after his initial arrest in August 2017.

Shaw-Taylor, who previously listed his residence in Annapolis but who now is identified by court records as living in Baltimore, and nine other people were charged in a case related to the widespread prescription of painkillers out of two medical clinics, and the sentence comes as all levels of government, including courts, grapple with a growing opiate addiction problem.

Although Shaw-Taylor and his legal team asked the court that he serve the sentence from the confinement of his daughter’s home, Wachs said the circumstances of the two charges merited prison.

“You’re a board-certified addiction medicine physician,” Wachs said before briefly describing the risks that come with the narcotic painkillers and the benzodiazepines Shaw-Taylor prescribed from clinics in Glen Burnie and Baltimore, and the harm that those types of drugs can cause patients.

“Those things are just completely contrary for a doctor to be doing with the oath you have taken,” Wachs said.

Shaw-Taylor will also pay $118,077 in restitution.

One of Shaw-Taylor's lawyers, Thomas Barnard, said that the judge's decision to incarcerate his client rather than sentence him to home detention was disappointing, but also understandable.

“I really appreciated the fact that the judge took the time to read everything,” Barnard said by phone after the hearing. “It was a lot to ask because this is a major problem, so we understand where the judge came down.”

The case was prosecuted by the Maryland Attorney General’s office, and followed a series of convictions and sentences for other people accused of playing a roll with the pill mills.

Shaw-Taylor and other defendants were indicted on drug-related charges in August 2017, and prosecutors accused them of playing roles in running pill mills through the Starlife clinic in Glen Burnie and Westside Medical Group in Baltimore. Shaw, prosecutors alleged, wrote prescriptions for painkillers that patients did not need for any legitimate medical use.

In June Wachs sentenced a Baltimore man, Tomarco Harris, to 20 years in prison. Harris was Starlife’s owner.

Prosecutors declined to comment on the negotiated sentence, but during the hearing said that the physician’s actions were egregious.

“Dr. Shaw-Taylor distributed strong narcotics without medical necessity in exchange for cash,” Assistant Attorney General Marilee Miller said during the hearing.

In asking the judge not to send him to prison,Shaw-Taylor said he built a dedicated practice to help his patients manage chronic pain, and his work was a part of his mission as a Christian.

“It was my avenue for serving my God,” he said.

But he said that his medical practices were wrong.

“The actions I took and directed violated the standards of my profession and the law,” he said.

Shaw-Taylor and his lawyer asked the judge to consider home detention because of his health. In a grey suit, a bowtie, and a large black brace fastened around his abdomen and worn outside of his dress shirt, Shaw-Taylor said he was in a car accident several years ago and several of his vertebrae were fused together over several surgeries.

“My pain level is an 8 out of 10 where 10 is the worst pain your can imagine,” he said.

Prosecutors said that Shaw-Taylor and Harris ran Starlife as a pill mill from June 2015 to August 2017. Patients paid as much as $500 in cash each for prescriptions of large quantities of painkillers and other drugs, including oxycodone, morphine, tramadol and benzodiazepine.

This story has been updated to reflect a change in Kofi Shaw-Taylor's home. He currently lists Baltimore as his home address.
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