CHEYENNE — A Casper doctor who ran a drug conspiracy that killed a woman will serve the minimum allowable sentence for his conviction on 21 felonies.
Judge Alan Johnson on Monday afternoon cited concerns about sentencing requirements in ordering Shakeel Kahn, 53, to serve 25 years imprisonment. The doctor requested he be imprisoned at one of the same three institutions his brother Nabeel requested hours earlier.
Nabeel Kahn was sentenced to just over 15 years in federal prison for his role in the pill mill.
Johnson departed downward from federal sentencing guidelines in issuing the two sentences over the course of nearly back-to-back hearings spanning about five hours Monday.
After the afternoon hearing, the doctor’s lawyer, Beau Brindley of Chicago, said he was happy with the judge’s decision. The attorney, who predicated much of his sentencing argument on a comparison between the doctor and cartel drug dealers, said the judge’s ruling indicated Johnson agreed with the distinction Brindley made.
“Under the circumstances (this was) the best possible outcome,” Brindley said. “(Johnson) suggested he thought there should be a difference too.”
U.S. Attorney Mark Klaassen, who was in attendance at the sentencing and whose office prosecuted the case, said after the hearing that he respects the judge’s decision, although the sentence fell short of the life imprisonment prosecutor Stephanie Sprecher asked for. Klaassen noted the sentence remains substantial.
A jury convicted the Kahn brothers in May, following a nearly monthlong trial in Casper’s federal courthouse. In returning its verdict, the jury found Shakeel Kahn guilty of all 21 felonies he faced In relation to the prescriptions for powerful opioids and other pills that he wrote for in exchange for hundreds of dollars in cash fees. Jurors also found the doctor responsible for the overdose death of an Arizona woman.
The jury convicted Nabeel Kahn was on a firearms charge and for conspiracy to unlawfully distribute and dispense controlled substances. Jurors, however, did not find him responsible in the woman’s death.
Over the course of the trial, prosecutors showed the business extended across Wyoming, and they distributed to states as far-flung as Arizona and Massachusetts.
Much of Nabeel Kahn’s sentencing hearing on Monday was spent in discussion of legal factors pertaining to sentencing. On sentencing arguments, Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephanie Hambrick asked the judge sentence Kahn to 25 years imprisonment, the maximum allowable by law and — she said — in keeping with the recommendation of sentencing guidelines.
Kahn’s defense attorneys, however, argued that his ongoing health issues merited an abridged sentence. They asked for a total of about 7 1/2 years imprisonment.
The judge ultimately agreed to depart from the guidelines and — citing Nabeel Kahn’s ongoing medical issues — sentenced him to 15 years and one month imprisonment.
Although Nabeel Kahn’s sentencing hearing attracted a mostly sparse audience, the courtroom’s pews held 33 people when the doctor’s hearing began.
The prosecution did not call any victims to speak, but Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephanie Sprecher read statements from relatives of Jessica Burch, the Arizona woman whose death Shakeel Kahn was found responsible for. The victims decided Monday morning they did not want to speak at the sentencing, something they had tenuously planned to do.
As Sprecher read a statement penned by Burch’s sister, Kahn remained mostly impassive, even as the statement repeatedly referred to the doctor as a monster.
It was only when the prosecutor read a sentence written by Burch’s mother-in-law accusing the doctor of caring more about his sentence than the dead woman that he reacted.
“Even now, you do not care,” Sprecher read from the paper. “You only care that you got caught and convicted.”
The doctor, sitting between his lawyers and dressed in orange garb and shackles, broke his resolute immobility. He rolled his shoulders, first left and then right. The frown on his face remained unchanged.
Moments later the prosecutor paused. After taking a couple of deep breaths, she turned away from the microphone that captured them and Hambrick walked to the podium to finish reading a description of a mother’s loss.
After brief comment by Johnson, Sprecher ran through an objection to pre-sentencing report findings. The judge ruled against her.
Lawyers then turned to sentencing recommendations for the 21 convictions. The doctor faced a minimum 20-year sentence on two convictions: conspiracy to unlawfully distribute and dispense controlled substances resulting in death and engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise.
Sprecher said Kahn thinks himself above the law and said he’s narcissistic and entitled, citing his violations of no-contact orders in the case. Kahn, she said, sent two men recently released from incarceration to the house of his wife, Lyn, shortly before she was to testify in the case, as an attempt at intimidation.
The prosecutor asked Johnson to order Kahn serve a life sentence and then another five years for a gun conviction.
Brindley then took to the podium. He told Johnson he was still troubled about the case and that he still did not understand how jurors found a conspiracy, referencing a closing argument at trial. He went on to say that enhancements tend to pile up in drug diversion cases against doctors. Such cases, Brindley said, are typically only prosecuted after a person dies by overdose. And doctors, he said, will inherently distribute a high amount of drugs, due to their prescribing powers.
“It is easy to get carried away by what the guidelines say,” Brindley told the judge, while his client frowned from the defense table. The lawyer referenced Kahn’s age and the minimum sentence before issuing a rhetorical question: “And that’s not enough?”
The defense attorney then referenced a case he’d recently argued that’s linked to cartel activity. His client in that case, he said, received 28 years. The doctor’s frown, for the first time since the hearing began, nearly crept into a smile.
“Something less than life, judge,” Brindley asked. “Something less than life. That’s too much.”
After a brief response from Sprecher, the judge noted that the law would convert the 2 million pills Kahn prescribed to 200,000 kilograms of generic drug weight.
“If you accept that,” the judge said, looking at Brindley, “that puts him right up there with (Joaquin “El Chapo”) Guzman.”
At the reference to the cartel kingpin, Brindley covered his mouth with his hand.
Following a 15-minute description of the crimes for which Kahn was convicted, and the doctor declining to speak, the judge left for 10 minutes.
On the judge’s return, Kahn — flanked by his attorneys — stepped to a podium for the judge’s ruling. Johnson said he is aware of sentencing in other cases and each should be handled on its own merits. He said the case raises questions to sentencing guidelines but that he did not question the jury’s verdict.
“The penalty in this matter is a substantial one,” Johnson said, looking directly at Brindley. “But I agree with you. I believe you have the stronger argument.”
He then ordered Kahn serve the 20 month minimums on the two most serious charges, with a number of shorter sentences running at the same time. He also sentenced Kahn to a five-year consecutive sentence on the gun charge.
“I don’t think there’ll be any recidivism, Johnson said. “The defendant will never have a (Drug Enforcement Agency) license again.”
The judge order Kahn pay $5,000 in restitution for Burch’s funeral, and, after Kahn’s lawyers requested he be sentenced to one of three prisons in California, Florida and Oregon, the judge rose from the bench and concluded the hearing.
Brindley said in a courthouse hallway he plans to appeal two issues: a judge’s decision to allow jurors to see fabricated medical records submitted by the doctor to Arizona medical licensing authorities and a decision on jury instructions.
A statement issued by Wyoming’s office of the DEA following the decision referred to the Kahn men as drug dealers.
“They preyed on the weak and the sick in our communities and they profited from their criminal activity,” said David Tyree, the agency’s resident agent in charge of Wyoming. “Drug dealers, selling poison to addicts, making a money from the pain and misery of addiction is something that as law enforcement and as a community, we can no longer tolerate.”