Laura Hintz, a nurse practitioner who worked with accused “pill-mill” operator Dr. Joseph E. Oesterling, could get her day in court next week, as a key witness for the prosecution, but a target for defense lawyers suspecting her of issuing fraudulent prescriptions.
“Wait until we have a chance to talk to Hintz on the stand. I think it will be very interesting,” Ronald W. Chapman II, a Troy attorney representing Oesterling, told a reporter for The Advertiser on Thursday during a break in the trial for Oesterling, 61, facing seven criminal charges that could land him in prison for up to 30 years if convicted of those crimes.
The trial for Oesterling, a convicted felon, is expected to last three weeks, and began Tuesday before Judge Amy Grace Gierhart in Tuscola County Circuit Court. Oesterling, of Ann Arbor, is a well-known urologist who once was chief of urology at the University of Michigan Medical Center.
Oesterling is charged with running a criminal enterprise, maintaining a drug building and with five counts of delivery of a controlled substance. A former employee of Oesterling’s clinic, Caro Medical Group at 206 Montague Ave. in Caro, accuses him of routinely writing prescriptions for pain medications to patients without testing to determine the causes of their medical problems.
Chapman said he expects Hintz to testify next week in the trial.
Tuscola County Chief Assistant Prosecutor Eric F. Wanink described Hintz on Thursday in court as a “co-conspirator granted immunity” in the case against Oesterling. The urologist is seen and heard on secret video recordings captured by undercover informants visiting his Caro office, and played in court in front of an eight-woman, six-man jury.
Detective Sgt. Andrew Feehan, working for the Thumb Narcotics Unit, testified in court Thursday that authorities seized certain items during raids on Oesterling’s medical clinics in Caro and Saginaw Township “because we had information that Laura Hintz was giving (prescriptions) with Dr. Oesterling’s signature.”
One portion of a video recording played in court featured a female undercover informant visiting Oesterling at his Caro clinic, and the other recording featured a male undercover informant visiting Oesterling there, too.
The female informant, visiting Oesterling for the first time, tells the urologist she ruptured a disc in her back due to a fall, then ruptured a disc in a car accident in 2014, and that she also has “degenerative disc disease” along with arthritis in her hips, and a kidney problem.
A voice on the recording is heard stating “the customer’s always right” as Oesterling – seated at a table and typing on a laptop computer – consults with the patient about potential prescriptions for her.
“The customer’s always right, huh?” the patient asks. “Great words – ‘the customer’s always right.’”
“That’s what Donald Trump will tell you, too,” Oesterling replies.
The patient and a young woman who appears to be an employee of the clinic are then heard chatting with the doctor as he determines what prescriptions to provide the patient. Occasionally, the conversation returns to Trump, then a candidate for president at the time the recording was made in 2016.
“I know Trump personally. I talk to him once a week,” Oesterling states. “For 30 years, I’ve known Trump.”
As the worker, patient and doctor continue talking, Oesterling says “You just ask how we got into Birch Run,” referring to an Aug. 11, 2016 speech by Trump at the Birch Run Expo Center.
Wanink has stated in prior court proceedings that Oesterling has “considerable resources” and owns 49 percent of the Birch Run Expo Center along with an apartment complex in Reese and “millions of dollars worth of John Deere toys and collectibles.”
A 2011 mlive.com article noted that Laura Hintz and Oesterling hoped to open a museum someday featuring John Deere memorabilia.
Doc calls ‘Laura’ feisty
During the undercover video recording of the female informant’s first visit with Oesterling, the doctor says he’ll provide her with 90 pills of Norco, a pain-relieving prescription medication. While talking with the female patient, Oesterling states “Laura” is text-messaging him.
“This is my nurse practitioner, lemme tell ya,” Oesterling says. Later during the conversation, Oesterling says his nurse practitioner is “feisty.”
“If I didn’t have three testicles, I couldn’t keep up with her,” said Oesterling.
A female employee at the Caro medical office tells the patient that Oesterling’s main office is in Saginaw, adding the doctor also sees patients in Caro, Mount Pleasant, West Branch and “Frankenmuth once in a while.”
In the video recording of the male informant’s first meeting with Oesterling, the patient tells the urologist that he’s in between jobs, without health insurance, living with his mother and having back trouble. “It’s a great story for a 36-year-old guy, isn’t it?” asks the informant, identifying himself as “Jay.”
“Well, you’re kind of down right now but this gives you a chance to rise up and get going,” states Oesterling, later adding that “I’ve been through some real tough times as well.”
Oesterling resigned from his job as chief of urology at the University of Michigan Medical Center. He pleaded no contest in 1997 to a felony charge after the university stated it uncovered double- and triple-billing for the cost of trips by the doctor.
On the video recording, the male informant states that patient records indicating any of his medical conditions are with a doctor he last saw about six years earlier.
Oesterling is heard on the video recording offering to prescribe “two weeks worth” of Norco to the man, but urging him to come up with his patient records.
“You could be making everything up as far as I know,” said Oesterling. Later, the doctor adds that “This is serious business. I don’t play around. This is all straight up, man.”
Meds denied, too
Chapman told The Advertiser that “There are other points (on the videos) where (undercover informants) talk about the pain that they’re in” but don’t receive prescriptions for pain-killing medications from Oesterling.
Portions of those recordings also were played Thursday in court, where Wanink and Tuscola County Assistant Prosecutor Eric Hinojosa sat at one table, and Oesterling sat at a table to their right, between his lawyers, Chapman and Robert J. Andretz.
A portion of the video recording played by defense lawyers shows that Oesterling doesn’t provide the male patient with any prescriptions for medications on the man’s return visit to the doctor’s office in Caro.
“I was lenient last month when you came because you were new and I thought I would help you out,” Oesterling says on a video recording.
The doctor notes the male patient still hadn’t provided any medical records. The informant tells Oesterling he’s “supposed to be” landing a job soon as a bouncer or bartender at a bar near Rosebush in Isabella County, but the urologist doesn’t agree to provide more pain medication.
“This is a bummer but I legally cannot just be handing out narcotics without knowing that … it’s the right thing to do,” the doctor states on the video recording.
At one point during courtroom debate Thursday about whether Judge Gierhart should admit various proposed exhibits as evidence for the prosecution – and with the jury out of the courtroom – Chapman said one proposed piece of evidence “might be related to Laura Hintz’s issuance of fraudulent prescriptions.”
Victor J. Mastomarco Jr., a Saginaw lawyer representing Oesterling in court proceedings last year, hailed Oesterling with “saving millions of men’s lives” from prostate cancer. Mastromarco said Oesterling “discovered the link – 30 years ago – between the PSA (prostate specific antigen) and prostate cancer, which is used all over the world.”
An email sent to The Advertiser by a person claiming to work for Oesterling six years ago states Oesterling “would do anything for his employees or patients,” adding the doctor once gave an employee a car after the employee’s vehicle broke down, advising the worker she could make payments to him.
On Oct. 25, 2016, authorities raided Oesterling’s clinics in Caro, Saginaw Township and Mount Pleasant, as well as the homes of Oesterling and Hintz.
Feehan testified that officers heard allegations that the Mount Pleasant office was open “long hours – 1 to 2 in the morning – with tons of people in and out.”