90 to 180 Months for Pill Mill Doc’s Fraud & Death of Victim to Whom She Provided Narcotic Drugs

In Commonwealth Of Pennsylvania v. Stephanie Tarapchak, J-S17021-20, No. 281 MDA 2018, Superior Court Of Pennsylvania (JUNE 23, 2020) Stephanie Tarapchak appealed  from the  judgment of sentence entered in the Court of Common Pleas of Lackawanna County (“trial court”), following her jury convictions for insurance fraud, theft by deception, corrupt organizations, perjury, endangering the welfare of children (“EWOC”), drug delivery resulting in death, distributing prescription to drug dependent person, and refusal or failure to keep records.

FACTS

Appellant operated a small internal medicine practice in Ashland, Pennsylvania.  Appellant prescribed and dispensed excessive amounts of narcotics to her paramour, Delton Bolton, as well as her minor child, F.T., whereby Appellant became engaged in a hostile custody dispute with her ex-husband, Alex Tarapchak. Additionally, Appellant was investigated in connection with the fatal drug overdose of Thomas Kromer (the “victim”).

On September 21, 2015, Appellant proceeded to a two-week jury trial. During trial, the Commonwealth presented thirty-four witnesses and admitted a voluminous amount of exhibits. With respect to the victim’s death, the Commonwealth offered the testimony of six witnesses.

The Commonwealth also presented evidence demonstrating that Appellant owned the internal medicine practice in Ashland. Appellant exhibited control of the distribution of narcotics to individuals in Ashland through her internal medicine practice and fraudulently billed insurance companies.

Appellant’s paramour, Mr. Bolton, testified that Appellant dispensed or prescribed quantities of Vicodin and testosterone to him throughout their two year relationship utilizing the Moore catalog. He recognized the Moore catalog, and described in detail the manner in which Appellant ordered the Vicodin, and designated the location of the Vicodin, on the nightstand. Mr. Bolton testified that he became a daily Vicodin user. Mr. Bolton verified Appellant’s awareness of his addiction, and admitted that they discussed his addiction on several occasions.

The jury began deliberations, and on October 6, 2015, the jury found Appellant guilty of insurance fraud, theft by deception, corrupt organizations, perjury, EWOC, drug delivery resulting in death, distributing prescription to a drug dependent person, and refusal or failure to keep records.

At sentencing the trial court stated: “your understanding that came from your medical background was put aside as you attempted to provide people who you clearly knew were addicted with things that would only enhance their addiction, and, as in this case, result in the loss of life of one of those people.” Further, the court stated: “when I saw that you put drugs in the hands of a member of your own family who was a minor. That presents serious problems to the court, because I don’t know what was clouding your thinking, because in your mind you had to know you were doing wrong. To give a prescription without the appropriate diagnostic procedures and having to treat the person fully, clearly is doing wrong from the perspective of being a healer of people.” Therefore, the court sentenced Appellant to an aggregate term of ninety to one hundred and eighty months’ imprisonment.

THE APPEAL OF THE SENTENCE

In particular, Appellant argues that the evidence was insufficient to sustain her convictions for drug delivery resulting in death and corrupt organizations. A claim challenging the sufficiency of the evidence is a question of law.

An appellate court, reviewing the sufficiency of the evidence, views all the evidence admitted at trial in the light most favorable to the verdict winner, there is sufficient evidence to enable the fact-finder to find every element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. In addition, the facts and circumstances established by the Commonwealth need not preclude every possibility of innocence. Any doubts regarding a defendant’s guilt may be resolved by the fact-finder unless the evidence is so weak and inconclusive that as a matter of law no probability of fact may be drawn from the combined circumstances.

The Commonwealth may sustain its burden of proving every element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt by means of wholly circumstantial evidence. Moreover, in applying the above test, the entire record must be evaluated and all evidence actually received must be considered. Appellant’s sufficiency challenge regarding drug delivery resulting in death lacks merit.

The trial court accurately and thoroughly addressed the merits of Appellant’s sufficiency challenge regarding her conviction for drug delivery resulting in death. The court found, among other things, that Appellant demonstrated extreme indifference to human life by continuing to prescribe the victim opioids at an accelerated pace without (a) adequately evaluating him, (b) maintaining medical records or (c) a prescribing rationale.

The trial court found that Appellant was aware that the victim “consumed his opioid prescriptions in a haphazard and reckless manner, presented with several psychiatric diagnoses as well as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and possessed a predisposition for arrhythmia.” Yet, “she deliberately increased the potency and dosage” of his prescriptions “so as to bypass the restraint of the insurance company.”  In so doing, Appellant consciously disregarded an unjustified and extremely high risk that her actions might cause death or seriously bodily injury. The evidence establishes that the Commonwealth proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Appellant committed drug delivery resulting in death.

In her second issue, Appellant challenged the sufficiency of the evidence supporting her conviction for corrupt organizations. The trial court also accurately and thoroughly addressed the merits of Appellant’s sufficiency challenge regarding her conviction for corrupt organizations. The trial court found, inter alia, that Appellant “either directly or indirectly participated in a pattern of racketeering activity through the two predicate acts of Insurance Fraud, and Distributing Prescriptions to Drug Dependent Person.”

The court reasoned that the two predicate acts formed a pattern related to the enterprise in that Appellant used the resources of her medical practice to acquire and maintain through the Moore catalog an inventory of narcotics. She utilized this inventory to supply Vicodin to her drug-addicted paramour without a prescription so as to avoid insurance regulations and criminal investigation.

She further used the resources of the enterprise, including the labor of her employees, and unwitting patients to receive income from insurance companies and funnel the income to herself under the guise of legitimate income. Appellant engaged in illegal commerce on an ongoing regular basis, supplying patients with excessive opioid prescriptions without conducting examinations, or documenting her medical decision making and continued to fraudulently bill insurance companies as if she did.

Moreover, evidence of Appellant’s drug addiction explains the history of the case, including events surrounding her criminal conduct for which she was charged.

In sum, the court concluded that Appellant waived several of the issues raised and the evidence was sufficient to sustain her convictions for drug delivery resulting in death and corrupt organizations.

ZALMA OPINION

Pill Mill Doctors, like Stephanie Tarapchak, commit a dangerous crime that results in the injury and death of those people put in her care. Her crimes are as evil as people who set arson fires in occupied properties or people who commit premeditated murder. Considering she provided narcotics to an addict and her own minor child, her sentence is a minimal for such a heinous crime.


© 2020 – Barry Zalma

Barry Zalma, Esq., CFE, now limits his practice to service as an insurance consultant  specializing in insurance coverage, insurance claims handling, insurance bad faith and insurance fraud almost equally for insurers and policyholders. He also serves as an arbitrator or mediator for insurance related disputes. He practiced law in California for more than 44 years as a

n insurance coverage and claims handling lawyer and more than 52 years in the insurance business. He is available at http://www.zalma.com and zalma@zalma.com.

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