New details emerged in the case of a physician accused of running several “pill-mills” in mid-Michigan, now being held in Tuscola County Jail on a $100,000 bond.
Dr. Joseph Edwin Oesterling was taken into custody Wednesday and arraigned Thursday. He faces seven charges: running a criminal enterprise, maintaining a drug building and five counts of delivery of a controlled substance.
If convicted, Oesterling faces up to 20 years in prison.
Tuscola County Prosecuting Attorney Mark Reene said the charges resulted from a seven-month investigation conducted by the Federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Tactical Diversion Squad and the Thumb Narcotics Unit into alleged over-prescribing practices at Osterling’s clinics in Caro, Saginaw, and Mount Pleasant.
Reene said the allegations against Oesterling ” include the massive over-prescribing of such substances as hydrocodone (commonly branded as Norco), methadone, amphetamines, phentermine, oxycodone, and alprazolam (commonly branded as Xanax).”
Oesterling was arraigned via video and was wearing blue medical “scrubs” for a shirt, coupled with jail-issue orange pants. Oesterling’s wife (who covered her face during parts of the arraignment) and two children were in the Tuscola County Magistrate’s office during the proceeding.
Tuscola County Chief Assistant Prosecutor Eric Wanink said a certified nurse practitioner (identified as Laura Hintz) who worked with Oesterling has agreed to work with prosecutors on the case. Wanink originally asked that bond be set at $750,000 cash or surety.
Defense attorney Alan Crawford, however, argued Oesterling be released on his own recognizance. Crawford said Oesterling was “struggling (to make) ends meet,” and “struggling to take care of the legal part” of the case. He added that Oesterling’s “assets have been frozen” and called the $750,000 cash/surety bond “certainly unreasonable.”
But Wanink said Oesterling has “considerable resources,” and owns 49 percent of the Birch Run Expo Center, an apartment complex in Reese, and “millions of dollars worth of John Deere toys and collectibles.”
As The Advertiser first reported, the charges against Oesterling are connected to a raid conducted in late October by the DEA and Thumb Narcotics Unit.
Police seized multiple electronic records, controlled substances, and financial records.
During a Tuscola County Circuit Court hearing this fall about authorities’ seizure of vehicles and personal property (and freezing of assets of Oesterling and others potentially involved), Saginaw defense lawyer Victor J. Mastromarco Jr. told the court that investigators have “turned these people’s lives upside down.”
Wanink told Tuscola County Circuit Court Judge Amy Grace Gierhart that the medical offices, including one in Caro, prescribed a total of “some 330,000 dosage units of Norco, a (Schedule II) controlled substance, within a 16-month period.”
“A lot of hospitals” don’t even prescribe that much of the painkiller Norco in the same time period, Wanink told the judge.
It was announced at the time of the raids in October that law enforcement became aware of Oesterling’s alleged activity through pharmacists in Tuscola County who believed over-prescribing was taking place.
In Tuscola County, Oesterling practiced at Caro Medical Group, 206 Montague Ave., in Caro, at the intersection of Joy and Montague streets across from the Caro Police Department.
Caro Medical Group, formerly Caro Family Physicians P.C., introduced Oesterling to the community via a Sept. 12, 2014 Facebook post, calling him “a world-renown urologist with more than 30 years of clinical and research experience. He trained at John Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD, before joining the staff at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN.”
“After serving as the Chairman of Urology at the University of Michigan for five years, he came to the Saginaw community and joined a practice with Dr. Joseph Aquilina, in 1998.
The post made no mention of Oesterling’s past legal wranglings — a 1997 case involving expense-account fraud that cost him his job at U-M (through resignation) and a separate case from 2005 involving alleged misconduct charges.
Reene said Tuesday the state of Michigan has suspended Oesterling’s license to practice medicine pending a formal administrative hearing.
Tom Gilchrist is a reporter for The Advertiser and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org