Probe of 'Doc Simon', 77, surprises Havre de Grace Pill prescriptions are under scrutiny


For 51 years, Dr. Edward J. Simon has been a pillar of the Havre de Grace community, a beloved general practitioner long admired for his willingness to make house calls.

On Oct. 5, federal, state and local law enforcement agents raided Dr. Simon's house and Bourbon Street office, as well as a North Union Avenue pharmacy.

A six-month investigation led police to suspect the doctor of giving prescriptions for anti-depressant drugs to just about anyone who paid $20 for an office visit, without establishing any sort of doctor-patient relationship, said Sgt. Henry Bowker of the Drug Enforcement Division Unit of the Maryland State Police.

Under advice of counsel, Dr. Simon, 77, will not discuss the cloud of suspicion that hangs over him.

Freeborn A. Brown, Dr. Simon's lawyer, calls his client a "wonderful old country doctor." Accounts from friends and acquaintances paint a similar picture.

"The story is that Dr. Simon was passing through on his way to Washington, or somewhere south, and stopped at the City Pharmacy on Union Avenue to buy a good cigar," said Kay Mike, director of the Havre de Grace Chamber of Commerce. "Dr. Simon always loved a good cigar."

Dr. Simon never left town. He opened his practice, and with his wife, Cathryn, reared two sons, Edward and Arthur, and is an active member at St. Patrick's parish. He also is a member of the Knights of Columbus.

The gray-haired Dr. Simon slipped on ice and broke a hip in December 1989. He has had surgery to correct his injuries, but he walks with a noticeable limp today.

"His eyesight is failing," Mrs. Mike said. "I'd see him driving through town -- he's only about 5 feet tall -- peeking over the steering wheel of his car quite often, but not so much recently."

Mr. Brown said Dr. Simon was terribly upset that police seized his red 1990 Cadillac Seville.

"He uses the car to travel back and forth to his office," said Mr. Brown, adding that Dr. Simon also was very upset at the way police ransacked his house on Somerset Court, throwing shoes and clothes from closets as they conducted their search.

Soon, perhaps within a month or so, a Harford grand jury may decide if he should be brought to trial.

It depends on what investigators learn when they sort through six months worth of patient records, prescription drug receipts and financial records of the doctor, City Pharmacy and its owner, Dominic Gasdia.

Harford State's Attorney Joseph I. Cassilly said that if there is evidence of criminal activity, someone will be charged.

Police also seized an undisclosed amount of money from the doctor and hundreds of pills.

The exact quantity was unknown, Sergeant Bowker said.

The targeted drugs, mostly tranquilizers, were Xanax, Valium and its generic equivalent, diazepam, and LorTab, a painkiller, he said.

Mr. Gasdia said his attorney had told him not to talk to anyone about the incident. He did say that he had filled lots of prescriptions for Dr. Simon's patients.

"I grew up here and have known Doc Simon almost all my life," said Mr. Gasdia, who became a pharmacist in 1977.

"Doc's practice isn't what it used to be, and maybe he should have retired a few years ago, but he's a very good man," Mr. Gasdia said.

Paul Klunk who lives next door to Dr. Simon's tiny office, once the garage for the Spencer-Silver mansion, at the tree-shaded corner of Union Avenue and Bourbon Street, is puzzled by the recent events.

"I don't know what to think," said Mr. Klunk, a neighbor of Dr. Simon's for almost 30 years. "Other than not always being able to park in front of my house because of his patients' cars, I've never had any problems with him."

"Dr. Simon has been a typical small-town doctor," Mrs. Mike said. "I was never his patient, but I used to take a friend to his office for treatment. He wasn't too organized. He was always shuffling papers, looking for the proper forms to fill out. I don't think he kept many records. He never had [secretarial] help. He was a one-man operation."

He appeared to be a caring doctor, Mrs. Mike added. "He would call my friend to see how she was feeling, asking if the medicine was helping."

Mr. Klunk also called Dr. Simon a good practitioner.

"He could be trusted to send you to a specialist if your problem was beyond what he felt was within his ability to treat," said Mr. Klunk, who stopped seeing the doctor as a patient when the doctor had some medical problems of his own a few years ago.

A sign on Dr. Simon's office door welcomes patients Monday through Friday between 10:30 a.m. and noon.

"He's not around much any more," Mr. Klunk said. "I know he does like to play cards and he loves the horses."

"Going to the track in the afternoon was like a hobby, a form of relaxation for Dr. Simon," Mrs. Mike said.

Hearing will be held

Dr. Simon still holds daily office hours, although the Maryland Board of Physician Quality Assurance has asked him to surrender his medical license, police said.

Michael Compton, executive director for that board, said he cannot confirm or deny any specific case.

Mr. Compton said the Physician Quality Assurance board does work with federal and state law enforcement agencies because, "for the most part, the board can stop a physician from practicing quicker than the police, if they find evidence of criminal activity."

The board consists of 15 members, doctors and consumers, Mr. Compton said.

It meets the fourth Wednesday of each month and Mr. Compton said it would be standard procedure to hold a hearing as soon as possible on any doctor under police investigation.

Mr. Compton said the board, which was formed in 1988, hears an average of 100 cases a year. He said about 5 percent of the cases involve elderly physicians accused of providing substandard care or prescription drug abuse.

The state Pharmacy Board operates similarly and would review each case involving a pharmacist independently and take whatever disciplinary action it deemed appropriate, said David Oliver, a staff member at the Maryland Board of Pharmacy.

Police cite the lack of detailed patient records as reason to believe Dr. Simon was essentially selling pills to strangers without recording medical histories or conducting examinations.

An undercover officer, they say, asked the doctor for a prescription for his girlfriend who the officer said was working and could not get to the doctor's office. Dr. Simon, police say, gave the officer a prescription without seeing her or asking detailed questions about her medical history.

Friends say that was his way, always helping people. Perhaps he was a soft touch for addicts and pushers who wanted pills.

Police say many of the doctor's patients frequently made a beeline for City Pharmacy to get their prescriptions filled. They say the pharmacy's business in Valium, diazepam, Xanax and LorTabs exceeded that of four other Havre de Grace pharmacies by as much as 10-to-1 over a six-month period.

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