WI: Clinic owners convicted of running Wauwatosa pill mill; prosecutors say more than 2 million painkillers were prescribed

The owners of a high-volume Wauwatosa pain clinic were found guilty Friday of prescribing millions of opioids to patients, many who didn’t clearly need them, including one who died two days after visiting Clinical Pain Consultants on Mayfair Road.

A federal jury returned the verdicts after a nine-day trial, the first from among several area cases investigated or charged several years ago during a crackdown prompted by the opioid crisis.

Lisa Hofschulz, 61, and Robert Hofschulz, 73, were charged in 2018 with conspiring to distribute oxycodone, methadone and other drugs “outside the usual course of medical practice and not for a legitimate medical purpose.”

Lisa Hofshulz also faced 14 counts of delivering the drugs to a handful of the clinic’s hundreds of patients, including Frank Eberl, 67, an alcoholic and military veteran who died of an oxycodone and morphine overdose two days after Hofschulz prescribed him a month’s supply of each.

Robert Hofschulz, 73, her ex-husband, acted as business manager of her clinic, which began inside a chiropractor’s office before it grew into a suite in a building at 2500 N. Mayfair Road. He was charged with distributing the drugs unlawfully to four of the patients.

Lisa Hofschulz was a licensed Advanced Practice Nurse Prescriber who could legally prescribe the drugs.

But prosecutors said she didn’t properly assess, diagnose, treat and review her clients. Instead, according to the government, she handed out prescriptions and monthly refills to just about anyone who said they suffered pain at 5 on a scale of 10 — and paid $200 in cash each time.

“That’s not practicing medicine,” prosecutor Julie Stewart said in her closing argument. “That’s drug dealing.”

Over 2015 and 2016, CPC took in more than $2.2 million in cash receipts, money the government will now try to obtain through forfeiture as the proceeds of crime.

Both Hofschulzes were allowed to remain free on bond until their sentencing Nov. 2. Lisa Hofschulz faces a mandatory 20 year prison term for the sale that led to a death.

In her closing argument, Stewart said without the appearance of a medical clinic, Hofschulz would have been found out much sooner. Instead, Stewart argued, Hofschulz’s fancy office space near Mayfair Mall, and her own well-dressed, polished personality let her continue to grow Clinical Pain Consultants.

“It was a pill-mill masquerading as a medical office,” where the defendants “preyed on customers’ addictions,” Stewart said. The office prescribed more than 2 million pills, she said, making it the highest prescriber of opioids among Wisconsin Medicaid providers.

Stewart reminded jurors that three newly graduated nurse practitioners all quit CPC rather than be part of what even they quickly saw was at the very least unethical. Hofschulz, Stewart said, hoped the inexperienced professionals would become “prescription vending machines.”

She also noted that when Hofschulz left Wisconsin for a few months in 2016 to be with her dying father, Robert Hofschulz found a registered nurse willing to hand out pre-filed, pre-signed prescriptions to customers who continued to show up and pay the $200.

Hofschulz could legally have given established patients three-months of prescriptions, that were written not-to-fill until future dates. But that, Stewart said, would have deprived the clinic of the $200 cash payments every time a customer visited the office.

Finally, Stewart summarized what happened to the patients whose prescriptions were charged in the indictment as illegal distribution, including Eberl, the military veteran who died of an oxycodone and morphine overdose two days after Hofschulz gave him a prescription.

The prescription was for 150 30mg oxycodone tablets and 60 morphine pills. Hofschulz had prescribed five oxycodone tablets per day and Eberl was to take morphine twice a day.

At his home where was found dead, there were 50 oxycodone tablets left in the bottle, and only 35 of the morphine tablets.

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