Commentator Limbaugh arrested in painkiller fraud

He pleads not guilty to concealing information to obtain prescriptions

April 29, 2006|By PETER FRANCESCHINA, MISSY STODDARD AND CHRYSTIAN TEJEDOR | PETER FRANCESCHINA, MISSY STODDARD AND CHRYSTIAN TEJEDOR,SOUTH FLORIDA SUN-SENTINEL

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Rush Limbaugh was arrested yesterday on a doctor-shopping charge in the Palm Beach County state attorney's office's long-running investigation into his drug use, and he agreed to supervision for 18 months while he continues his rehabilitation.

Limbaugh, 55, a Palm Beach, Fla., resident, his lawyers and prosecutors reached an agreement on the single felony charge, and the conservative radio talk show host surrendered at the Palm Beach County Jail late yesterday afternoon. He spent less than an hour in custody and was fingerprinted before being released on $3,000 bail.

The agreement requires Limbaugh to continue seeing the therapist who has been treating him since he admitted to an addiction to painkillers in October 2003 and entered a monthlong treatment program. It also requires him to undergo drug testing and pay $30,000 toward the cost of the investigation, according to prosecutors. Limbaugh is expected to sign the agreement Monday and broadcast his afternoon radio show that day from Palm Beach.

If Limbaugh successfully completes the terms of his 18 months of supervision, the felony charge will be dismissed, and Limbaugh's record will be clean.

"If he does not successfully complete it, then the state will go forward with the charge," Palm Beach County State Attorney's Office spokesman Michael Edmondson said. Prosecutors routinely use such "pre-trial intervention" agreements with drug offenders, Edmondson said.

"It is a resolution that is standard for first-time offenders with no other criminal history or arrests and individuals with a history of drug addiction," Edmondson said.

The doctor-shopping charge alleges that Limbaugh obtained overlapping prescriptions from three doctors, one in New York and two in Palm Beach County, without telling them. That is a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison.

While Limbaugh was being treated for back pain at the Jupiter Outpatient Surgery Center, he signed a pain-management contract that required him to get all his drugs from the center and reveal which pharmacy he would use to fill the prescriptions, according to Limbaugh's arrest affidavit.

The pharmacy was Lewis Pharmacy on Palm Beach, owned by Michael Carbone, who was interviewed by investigators in November of 2003, according to the affidavit.

"Carbone stated that he became concerned due to the amount of pain medications Limbaugh was receiving and the number of doctors that were providing prescriptions for Mr. Limbaugh," the affidavit says.

Limbaugh came under investigation after his former housekeeper went to prosecutors in December 2002 and told them she and her husband had been selling Limbaugh large quantities of hydrocodone, OxyContin and other prescription drugs for several years, according to search warrants used to seize Limbaugh's medical records from four doctors. The agreement announced yesterday came as prosecutors were considering taking their evidence before a grand jury.

At a news conference yesterday, Limbaugh's lawyer, Roy Black, would not say the resolution was a victory for Limbaugh. He characterized it as "common sense put into the system."

Black reiterated that Limbaugh adamantly denies committing any crimes, explaining he agreed to the single doctor-shopping charge because it's necessary for a charge to be filed to enter a diversion program. Limbaugh has entered a not-guilty plea with the court, Black said. What Limbaugh admits to, Black said, is having a drug addiction.

"It should be recognized that people like Rush should be helped, not prosecuted," he said.

Black said the state requested $30,000 for the cost of prosecution. Black said he didn't have a problem with the figure.

"I don't think it's an admission of anything," he said. "We thought the citizens of Florida shouldn't bear the cost."

Peter Franceschina, Missy Stoddard and Chrystian Tejedor write for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

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