Heather Willard / NewsBreak Denver / March 16, 2023
(Greenwood Village, Colo.) A 69-year-old ex-psychiatrist pleaded guilty on March 8 to distributing controlled substances outside the usual course of professional practice with no legitimate medical purpose, as well as structuring financial transactions to evade reporting requirements and using the funds for financial transactions over $10,000.
Howard Weiss, of Greenwood Village, pleaded guilty to three of the 120 original charges filed against him in 2021; agreed to forfeit $826,083.24 he earned from his crimes; and will pay $150,000 in community restitution in a plea agreement filed in the U.S. District Court of Colorado. Weiss also forfeited his medical license.
According to the plea agreement, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) began an investigation in 2016 into Weiss, focusing specifically on suspicious financial activity and concerning reports related to his patients’ sale of controlled substances and one patient’s poly-drug overdose death.
Weiss faces between 5-6 months of federal imprisonment, with the rest of the sentence to be served as home detention, according to the plea agreement. According to federal sentencing guidelines, the prosecutorial team recommends between 37-46 months of imprisonment, but note that Weiss could receive up to a 96-month sentence (approximately 8 years).
Additionally, Weiss could be fined between $15,000-$1,000,000 and will receive at least three years of post-release control.
Investigators found Weiss was prescribing methamphetamine to several adult patients over the course of several years. Methamphetamine has Food and Drug Administration approval and can be prescribed in special cases, according to the Denver U.S. Attorney’s Office. The office asserted in a press release that most psychiatrists would never prescribe methamphetamines.
According to the plea agreement, Weiss prescribed Xanax (alprazolam) in conjunction with Desoxyn.
According to investigators, Weiss’s prescribing records had other concerning patterns, who found it unusual to prescribe high-dose stimulants with high-dose sedatives because the drugs have competing effects. When these drugs are prescribed together, it usually indicates that the patient is diverting one or both drugs instead of taking them as prescribed. It can also mean one or both of the drugs are not medically necessary.
Federal investigators said the defendant routinely prescribed high-dose stimulants with high-dose sedatives. The defendant also regularly prescribed stimulants such as Adderall at the upper end of the usual dosing range and, sometimes, well beyond the upper end of the usual dosing range.
One of Weiss’s patients showed up to a drug deal in July 2017 with 119 methamphetamine pills prescribed by the psychiatrist. Weiss admitted in the plea agreement he knew the patient’s prescriptions did not have a legitimate medical purpose: the patient’s probation officer had previously contacted him to warn about the patient’s methamphetamine addiction.
But he prescribed the methamphetamine anyway.
As part of the plea, the defendant admitted to illegal banking activity. Federal regulations prohibit the “structuring” of financial transactions to sidestep bank filing requirements for currency deposits over $10,000. Between November 2015 and February 2018, the defendant made 45 cash deposits in excess of $9,000 but below the $10,000 threshold.
Bank tellers reported occasions where the defendant would show up with a wad of cash, ask it to be counted, and then decline to deposit any more than $10,00.
Finally, the defendant also admitted that he used the proceeds of his illegal prescribing to make large financial transactions of more than $10,000.
Sentencing is scheduled for June 6, 2023.
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