Former VA chief acquitted on drug charges stemming from prescription for wife of former boss

Atty: 'She can't wait to get back to work' at VA

CINCINNATI -- A federal judge has acquitted Dr. Barbara Temeck on a felony charge stemming from a prescription she wrote for the wife of her former boss in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

The ruling reverses a January jury verdict against the former chief of staff at the Cincinnati VA Medical Center, who was demoted after VA whistleblowers objected to her management practices in 2016 and presented evidence that Dr. Temeck prescribed pain killers for the wife of Jack Hetrick, a former VA Network Director who resigned soon after the allegations surfaced.

Related: WCPO and the Scripps Washington Bureau's investigation into the Cincinnati VA 

Defense attorney Ben Dusing said Dr. Temeck was elated by the ruling.

"She was emotional of course. It's been a long, hard road for her," Dusing said. "She believes in the veterans and the VA and she can't wait to get back to work there."

After an eight-day trial in January, a Cincinnati federal jury convicted Dr. Temeck on one of three counts against her. U.S. District Judge Michael Barrett set aside that conviction with Friday’s ruling, further mandating that a retrial should take place if his acquittal is later vacated on appeal.

“Defendant acted in accordance with what she reasonably believed to be proper medical practice,” Barrett wrote in his 26-page ruling. “To the extent the jury’s verdict on Count 3 was based upon Government’s ‘legitimate course of practice’ theory, the jury’s verdict was against the manifest weight of the evidence.”

Judge Barrett also rejected a second prosecution theory that alleged Dr. Temeck acted outside the scope of her DEA registration to prescribe controlled substances: 

"The government presented evidence that Defendant’s DEA registration was mailed to her and the registration certificate includes the following language: 'This registration is only for use at Federal or State institutions.' However, the Government did not present evidence that Defendant read that language or understood that as a licensed physician she was prohibited from writing a prescription for a controlled substance for” Mrs. Hetrick.

Dusing said the trial produced evidence that could help Dr. Temeck get her job back at the Cincinnati VA or receive financial damages for her termination. He argued during the trial that Dr. Temeck was selectively prosecuted for rooting out waste at the VA.

"The documents speak for themselves," he said. "You’ve got investigators and to some extent prosecutors talking to the general counsel’s office of the VA and other VA administrators. I just don’t think there’s much question that this was a very unusual case that would never be prosecuted in any other circumstance and there’s a lot of questions to be answered there."

The office of United States Attorney Benjamin Glassman, who first brought charges against Temeck, released a statement late Friday evening.

"The United States Attorney’s Office disagrees with the court’s opinion and is evaluating its options for further review," it read.

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