BECKLEY, W.Va. — A Raleigh County doctor who pleaded guilty earlier this year to a federal drug charge has been sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Michael Kostenko, 61, appeared in front of U.S. District Judge Irene Berger Wednesday first blaming his attorneys for not defending him properly. Attorneys Ward Morgan and Derrick Lefler asserted they made many attempts to meet at Southern Regional Jail only to be disregarded by Kostenko, who ran the Coal Country Clinic in Daniels.
Kostenko pleaded guilty to one count back in April bringing his trial on 22 criminal counts to an abrupt end.
As an osteopathic doctor, Kostenko was known to host several classes on a daily basis for helping pain relief.
Records showed he would write prescriptions for oxycodone in cash-only transactions after the classes. One day in 2013, Kostenko wrote 375 prescriptions to 271 patients totaling $20,000. He had never actually examined any of those patients.
Former gubernatorial candidate and state senator Charlotte Pritt attended the sentencing to defend Kostenko’s medical practices. She described him as a great doctor who used “non-traditional” and “non-invasive” medical techniques.
Kostenko and his defense insisted that while his practice seemed unorthodox, everyone has a “different standard of care”. They also said while he did write a lot of prescriptions, all were low dosages given in small amounts at a time. According to Kostenko, this would lessen the likelihood of abuse with the highly addictive drug. Sixteen patients reportedly died of overdoses under his care.
Federal prosecutors insisted Kostenko continued to prescribe oxycodone even through obvious signs of abuse. He allegedly never screened or examined patients for addiction. He also never consulted patients of the drug’s risks before prescribing. It was also brought up that Kostenko used marijuana with a patient, cocaine with another and had a sexual relationship with a third.
Before being sentence, Kostenko said that he knows what he did was wrong, but it should not be cause for imprisonment. He blamed the patients calling them “volatile” and “vulnerable”. He also listed many career accomplishments in attempt to prove he otherwise had a great record. Judge Berger struck those down, saying they were “irrelevant to the case”.
“You are, in my opinion, the worst kind of drug dealer. You poured thousands of prescription opiates into the streets…under oath,” Berger told Kostenko.
Judge Berger also said she was concerned about him being released in 20 years. She believes that while he won’t be practicing medicine, he’ll still find ways to make money.
“You believe you do not have to follow the law,” Berger said. “Your arrogance left patients in addiction.”
Wednesday’s sentencing sends a clear message to drug dealers about efforts to pursue them regardless of education or status, according to U.S. Attorney Carol Casto.
“As a physician, Dr. Kostenko held a position of trust in the community. Instead of honoring his oath to do no harm, he contributed to the greatest public health crisis of our generation – opioid abuse. Sixteen patients died from overdoses on his watch, but clearly not under his care,” Casto said. “Drug dealers should be aware that we are committed to using every tool in our arsenal to battle the opioid crisis, and the prosecution of health care providers who contribute to the problem will no longer be the exception, but the norm.”
Along with 20 years behind bars, Berger sentenced Kostenko to 5 years of supervised release. He also has to pay a $50,000 liability fine either immediately or in installments while incarcerated. This fine was reduced from the initial $240,000.
After Judge Berger explained the sentence appeal process, attorney Ward Morgan said appealing was the doctor’s intention. Kostenko’s daughter Christina also could be overheard saying he will appeal, as they waved goodbye to one another from across the courtroom. He has 14 days to file an appeal for the sentence.