Convicted psychiatrist seeks to avoid prison; will be sentenced Dec. 7

November 29, 2012

His lawyer is asking that an 82-year-old New City psychiatrist who admitted in June to illegally distributing prescription drugs be sentenced to a fine and community service rather than prison time.

Aristide Esser faces up to 20 years in federal prison when he is sentenced Dec. 7 by Judge Kenneth M. Karas in U.S. District Court in White Plains.

John E. Finnegan, a lawyer for Esser, said in a sentencing memorandum filed Friday that the psychiatrist had a distinguished career before it was derailed in 2011 by at least four incidents where Esser illegally prescribed Seconal, a sedative, to cooperating witnesses. Esser’s conduct, Finnegan said, was illegal but did not fit the pattern of recent arrests of doctors, many of whom are accused of operating so-called “pill mills.”

“He was not engaged in ‘drug dealing’ in the traditional sense of the term, involving large-scale distribution for profit,” Finnegan wrote in court papers, before writing that some of Esser’s prescriptions resulted from patients’ “skillful manipulations and persistence.”

Prosecutors, meanwhile, have said that Esser told the cooperating witness that he would “gladly medicate” the witness’s friends, should they also need prescriptions.

Prosecutors have said that Esser’s 2011 conduct is just the latest in a string of incidents regarding Esser’s alleged overprescription of drugs to patients. Esser was previously ordered to stop prescribing opiates after a 2001 investigation by the state Department of Health, which accused him of giving opiates to substance abusers without proper evaluation or monitoring, according to court papers.

In the sentencing memorandum, Finnegan said Esser grew up in Indonesia during the Japanese occupation in World War II. Esser’s father and uncle were executed by the Japanese. Esser moved to Holland in 1946, before eventually going to medical school and, in 1961, coming to the United States to serve as a research fellow at Yale University. He later moved to Rockland County, where he practiced psychiatry for decades.

Seconal was widely used in the 1960s and 1970s but has been less popular among recreational users in recent years. A parade of famous musicians, artists, writers, and others were said to have used or abused Seconal, including Tennessee Williams, Judy Garland, and Jimi Hendrix. Garland died June 22, 1969, after a suspected Seconal overdose.

Source: Erik Shilling, "New City psychiatrist, 82, seeks to avoid prison in drug case," The Journal News, November 26, 2012.


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