PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A Philadelphia doctor serving life in prison for killing newborns at his abortion clinic admitted Tuesday that he also sold painkiller prescriptions, sometimes writing dozens of prescriptions in different names to a single patient.
Dr. Kermit Gosnell, 72, pleaded guilty to federal drug charges after twice walking away from scheduled plea hearings.
Prosecutors say he flooded city streets with OxyContin, codeine-laced cough syrup and the antidepressant Xanax, after selling prescriptions for $10 or $20 to people who lined up at his office. He also sold monthly refills, distributing more than a half-million Oxycodone tablets and more than 800,000 Xanax pills.
Investigators found more than $240,000 in cash in a 2010 raid of his West Philadelphia home.
"A license to practice medicine is not a license to deal drugs," Assistant U.S. Attorney Joan Burnes said after the hearing, which stalled yet again as Gosnell weighed the $200,000 asset forfeiture that was part of the deal.
It's not clear whether his wife, Pearl, who was herself convicted of performing illegal abortions, and their teenage daughter can keep the family home amid forfeiture proceedings.
Gosnell ran a street-corner medical clinic for three decades in West Philadelphia, and held himself out as a community activist who served poor women, minorities and the elderly. But he relied on unlicensed staff to do much of the work, leading to the 2009 overdose death of an abortion patient and the deaths of three babies born alive.
He is serving life without parole in those deaths, after a high-profile murder trial that ended in May with three first-degree murder convictions.
The federal plea includes 12 drug distribution counts, while prosecutors dropped charges that he sold drugs near a school and led a criminal enterprise.
His guideline sentence is 24 to 30 years, although defense lawyer Jack McMahon calls any time imposed "moot," given the life sentence. U.S. District Judge Cynthia M. Rufe set sentencing for Oct. 4.
According to Burnes, clinic ledgers show Gosnell took in as much as $3,000 a night in cash from his pill mill operation.
"It is a hell of a lot of writing, 200 prescriptions a night," Gosnell said on a recording, according to Burnes.
He told investigators the night of a 2010 raid that he suspected patients were selling the drugs, but said "there was little he could do about the situation," Burnes said. He attributed the high demand to word of mouth about OxyContin and the faltering economy, she said.
Gosnell typically arrived at the clinic at night to perform abortions. Not infrequently, patients went into labor before he arrived, according to testimony from the murder trial. The staff was trained to snip the baby's neck if that occurred.
Four former clinic workers, including an unlicensed doctor, pleaded guilty to third-degree murder. Seven co-defendants pleaded guilty in the federal drug case.
McMahon, who represented Gosnell in both cases, was out of the country Tuesday, so Gosnell entered his drug plea with lawyer Emily Cherniak by his side.
Gosnell struggled to admit that he was actually guilty of the charges, while conceding that he had agreed to plead guilty. However, he said the government's summary of their case was accurate.
"I committed the acts that are reflected here," he finally said. "I plead guilty for these crimes."