Another Western New York doctor has been sentenced for fraudulently prescribing drugs. Dr. Albert Cowie, a former radiologist with Diagnostic Imaging Associates in Williamsville, faces 24 months in prison.
Cowie wrote more than 250 prescriptions for opioids to a small group of people between 2010 and 2014. With each prescription, he kept a share of the pills to feed his own addiction.
Last year, Cowie pleaded guilty to obtaining the pills illegally and defrauding two local healthcare companies, but told U.S. District Court Judge Lawrence Vilardo on Tuesday that, since his arrest, he’s sought counseling and gotten clean. Cowie said he is also working with the Medical Society of the State of New York’s Committee for Physician Health to tell his story to others as a cautionary tale.
“He’s certainly to be commended for that, and I hope that it’s true,” said acting Western District U.S. Attorney J.P. Kennedy. “But as we all know, we’ve all been around long enough to see that this is really something that grabs a hold of people and requires something that they must struggle with every day.”
Kennedy wished Cowie well on his path back to productive society during an announcement of sentencing on Tuesday, but noted that everyone who abuses drugs meets a consequence.
“Our purpose is to remind the public, no matter who you are – whether a doctor or a derelict – that all of us will eventually be held accountable for the choices that we make,” said Kennedy. “Some of those people that we catch must answer to the criminal justice system, as Dr. Cowie has. Sadly, many that we don’t catch must answer with their lives.”
Vilardo sentenced Cowie to 24 months in prison, followed by a combined three years of supervised release for charges of felony obtaining controlled substances by fraud and felony health care fraud. In addition, Cowie was ordered to immediately begin paying restitution of $20,482.83 to HealthNow New York and $3,211.09 to Univera Healthcare. Vilardo waived any additional fines for Cowie on account of a poor financial situation and his role as a caregiver to a young child.
Before the sentencing, Cowie’s Defense Attorney, Robert Goldstein, urged the judge to consider that Cowie was not out to make a profit from his actions – a motive different from five other Western New York doctors recently convicted of similar crimes.
Vilardo did consider the difference in his sentencing, but said he also found it troubling that Cowie perpetuated the addictions of others – even after being asked to stop – in order to feed his own. Still, Vilardo aired on the lightest side of the possible sentence.
Kennedy was less sympathetic in his own assessment of Cowie’s behavior.
“The motivation of the individual, perhaps, matters to the individual,” said Kennedy. “But in the end, the societal harm is the same and it perpetuates the ever increasing opioid crisis that we’re facing not only in Buffalo and Western New York, but across the country.”
In his final words before receiving his sentence, Cowie told the court, “I’m grateful to be here today to take responsibility for my actions.”
“I’m am not a victim,” Cowie said, referring to his addiction. He told the court he would accept his sentencing as fair and just.