CINCINNATI -- The felony drug trial of former Cincinnati VA chief of staff Dr. Barbara Temeck opened with a bang Wednesday as her defense attorney hinted that the fired chief of staff will claim she didn’t write two of the prescriptions that led to criminal charges against her.
Dr. Temeck is accused of illegally prescribing pain pills for the wife of her former boss on three occasions between December 2012 and November 2013. Two of the prescriptions were called into pharmacies, while a third was written, according to evidence presented as fact by U.S. District Judge Michael Barrett at the start of the trial.
But a panel of 12 jurors and two alternates – nine women and five men – heard different accounts of the prescriptions in opening arguments.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Kyle Healey said Dr. Temeck admitted writing the prescriptions in an audio interview with the VA’s Office of Inspector General.
“She didn’t want to do it -- felt she was being pressured to do it,” Healey told the jury. By writing the prescriptions for a nonveteran VA co-worker, Dr. Temeck “exceeded the terms of her DEA registration,” Healey said. “She simply wasn’t allowed to provide those controlled substances to that patient.”
Defense attorney Ben Dusing said the patient, Kathleen Hetrick -- a VA nurse who was injured on the job and suffered migraines and chronic pain for years -- was a close friend of Dr. Temeck. Dr. Temeck acted “altruistically” and without pay as a “care coordinator” for her friend, the wife of former VA Administrator Jack Hetrick.
“This is a story of one heck of a Good Samaritan,” Dusing said. “Instead of putting this individual on trial maybe we should have a recognition ceremony.”
Dusing added that the audio tape prosecutors will present as a confession is “anything but” an admission of guilt. The defense will only concede that Dr. Temeck wrote one prescription for Kathleen Hetrick in on Nov. 2, 2013.
“That one was written by Dr. Temeck,” Dusing said. “The first two...we’ll see.”
The trial is expected to last three to five days, stretching into early next week. Prosecutors said they’ll call five witnesses. Dusing declined to reveal whether Dr. Temeck will take the stand in her own defense.
The case stems from an investigative report by WCPO and the Scripps Washington Bureau, which spent five months looking into claims of mismanagement by 34 whistleblowers at the Cincinnati VA. In a series of reports, Scripps and WCPO documented morale problems caused by cost cutting, patient-care deficiencies and inadequate sterilization of surgical tools.
The reports led to the retirement of Network Director Jack Hetrick and the firing of Dr. Temeck, who is appealing her dismissal. Temeck claims she was unfairly targeted by the VA for calling attention to government waste and abuse by doctors affiliated with the University of Cincinnati.
A special VA administrative panel investigated Dr. Temeck’s claims and rejected them in February 2017. Judge Barrett rejected arguments that Dr. Temeck was selectively prosecuted in November.