When Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephanie Sprecher put exhibit No. 10,050 on a courtroom projector Wednesday afternoon, confusion broke out.
A court reporter asked Sprecher to repeat the exhibit number. Judge Alan Johnson asked if defense attorney Beau Brindley had any objection to its admission to an already swollen evidence file.
Exhibit 10,050, an image of a FedEx label, it turned out, was already in evidence.
Sprecher displayed it on televisions moored to the walls of a federal courtroom in downtown Casper. With the momentary confusion resolved, Sprecher continued her questioning of a witness who said the package delivered painkillers — prescribed by Dr. Shakeel Kahn — to her Arizona home.
The witness, Stacy Drndarski, was the 16th called by Sprecher and Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephanie Hambrick in the trial of the doctor, which has thus far spanned nearly two weeks and is expected to take a month to conclude.
The prosecutors have charged Kahn with 21 felonies, including a single count of conspiracy to distribute drugs resulting in death and a single count of operating a continuing criminal enterprise. A conviction on either of those crimes is punishable by between 20 years and life in prison. His brother, Nabeel, stands trial on two felonies.
Federal agents arrested Dr. Kahn in November 2016 at his Casper home. And days later prosecutors charged him with illegally distributing prescription painkillers. The government’s lawyers have since said the alleged criminal conspiracy resulted in the overdose death of an Arizona woman. Prosecutors say Kahn dealt drugs out of his Arizona clinic before moving to Wyoming where he continued the conspiracy. The doctor used false medical records to cover up widespread drug dealing, according to prosecutors.
Michael Thompson, who represents Kahn and works in Brindley’s Chicago office, said at the opening of the trial that the doctor was misled by patients and never intended to break the law. Kahn, Thompson said, will demonstrate when he testifies that he did not form the intent prosecutors will need to prove to convict the doctor.
This week, prosecutors’ presentation has largely relied on people for whom Kahn wrote prescriptions over the course of years.
Paul Beland, of Massachusetts, took the stand Monday to say he flew to Denver and drove north to Kahn’s office, where the doctor wrote him prescriptions for hundreds of oxycodone pills and methadone. He said he tried to fill his prescription in Casper but was rebuffed at a pharmacy because it did not have enough opioids on hand.
“There wasn’t an oxycodone in this town,” Beland said of the prescription drug. “They were all gone.”
After driving to a Colorado pharmacy, where he was rebuffed because of his Massachusetts license, Beland flew back to the East Coast empty-handed, he said. Beland told jurors he called the doctor, who later arranged to have the drugs filled and sent to him.
Beland, who appeared in court wearing stripes, handcuffs and shackles, was initially charged along with the doctor and later took a deal with prosecutors. He is scheduled to be sentenced this summer.
On Tuesday afternoon, Shawnna Thacker told jurors that in 2011 she started visiting Kahn’s office in Arizona as her mother was dying. She said she was later arrested for possession of drug paraphernalia, an arrest that was written up in a local newspaper. When she went back to the doctor, he knew about the arrest, she said.
“He kinda joked about it — about reading about me in the paper,” Thacker testified.
Thacker likewise has pleaded guilty to a single federal count and is awaiting sentencing.
Wednesday, husband and wife David and Stacy Drndarski, both of Arizona, took the stand. David Drndarski told jurors he at one point traded a motorcycle and a promise of labor on Kahn’s house for 10 office visits — 5 each for he and his wife — in which the doctor wrote prescriptions for hundreds of pills.
When Stacy Drndarski took the stand on Wednesday afternoon, she told jurors and an audience of seven that Kahn knew his patients were misusing their prescriptions.
“He knew, but it was never said out loud,” she said.
Drndarski, who also worked at Kahn’s Arizona office, said she overheard Kahn joking with a patient about the misuse of an opioid cough syrup. The doctor joked that he would not prescribe the drug because he knew what it was used for, Drndarski said. Kahn later wrote the prescription, she testified.
She said she continued to pay hundreds of dollars cash for office visits while she worked for the doctor, but Kahn did not examine her. When Kahn moved his office to Wyoming, Drndarski flew to Wyoming to fill prescriptions for her and her husband before returning to Arizona.
Under cross-examination, Drndarski acknowledged that she had never told the doctor that she had been misusing the pills or selling them. She said, however, the doctor did not inquire about symptoms she reported on pain charts she filled out.
“I never really told him anything about pain or anything,” she said.
Sprecher began in the late afternoon questioning Erinn Downey, the Arizona medical board investigator who looked into Kahn. She said she began the investigation following two complaints by pharmacists in the same Arizona town.
By 5:15 p.m., the prosecutor said she expected her questioning to take another hour and Judge Johnson ended the day’s proceedings.
After jurors left the courtroom, Shakeel Kahn unclipped his brother’s bow tie and U.S. Marshals led the two men out of the courtroom separately and toward Natrona County Detention Center, where they are being held in lieu of bond.
In a brief conversation, prosecutors told the judge and defense attorneys they expect to conclude their presentation by Tuesday. Defense attorneys will have the opportunity to put on their own presentations, during which time the doctor will testify, before the case is handed over to jurors.