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Judge rules prison not appropriate for Alabama doctor convicted of writing illegal prescriptions


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    MOBILE, Alabama (WALA) — A doctor convicted of writing illegal prescriptions for painkillers avoided prison time Monday.

Dr. Chykeetra “Che Che” Maltbia faced at least 6½ in prison under advisory sentencing guidelines. But after hearing from the defendant, her family, her pastor and a patient, U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Beaverstock agreed with the defense contention that prison was not appropriate.

The judge sentenced Maltbia to five years on probation and ordered her to pay a $50,000 fine.

Although Beaversock sided with the prosecution in a dispute over how to calculate the sentencing guidelines, he said those guidelines do not fit this specific case.

“I’m having a hard time putting that square peg into that round hole,” he said.

Maltbia apologized on Monday for violating a requirement of her license to prescribe drugs that she see every patient each time she writes a prescription.

“I am truly sorry for the fact that I didn’t go back and look at that regulation,” she said.

Defense attorney Dennis Knizley praised the judge’s ruling.

“Certainly, we’re very pleased. It was a difficult job for the judge to come down from 78 months to probation,” he said outside the courthouse. “But it was the correct sentence. There was enough factors out there that this case was just unique. And the guidelines weren’t appropriate. It’s courageous for a judge to do that, but he did right thing.”

A jury in August found Maltbia guilty of 15 counts of possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance. Prosecutors alleged that Maltbia wrote oxycodone prescriptions outside the usual course of professional practice.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Kasee Heisterhagenargued for prison time. She pointed to testimony that Maltbia left pre-signed prescriptions for patients when she was out of town – including some when she was on a cruise.

“It’s a unique situation in that this is the first sentencing I have ever been to where the defendant didn’t show any genuine remorse,” she said.

Heisterhagen disputed the defense suggestion that Maltbia was unfamiliar with the licensing regulation.

“Dr. Maltbia knew she was breaking the rule because otherwise she wouldn’t have falsified the medical records to conceal her absence,” Heisterhagen said.

Maltbia’s attorneys sought to depict her as hard-working person who made mistakes in her practice but never had malicious intent. Knizley says his client ran a legitimate pain management clinic in west Mobile, even though she violated regulations.

He told the judge that her client was convicted on “somewhat of a technicality” and was not using her position to supply people with narcotics to abuse.

“There is still no evidence that anything she did was not for a medical necessity,” he said.

Keith Odem, a patient of Maltbia’s from 2013 to 2019, told Beaverstock that years of working as a general contractor led to painful conditions. He said Maltbia was always professional and also helped his father, a Vietnam veteran who suffered from his own pain issues.

“I have seen someone who lives a redeemed life,” he said. “I’ve seen contrition.”

Knizley noted that after losing her medical practice, Maltbia launched a pool business that swimming pool business that grossed $700,000 in one year.

“That’s such an admirable thing,” he said.

The defendant’s husband, Emmette Baker, testified that he and Maltbia’s parents all work for that business and depend on income from it. He said he doubts it could survive without her.

“Che Che is the business brain behind our pool business,” he said. “We need that here in Mobile County.”

Gordon Armstrong, another attorney for Maltbia, said some criminal defendants deserve prison. But he said his client was not one of them.

“Our community will not benefit from her going to prison – at all,” he said

The case is not necessarily over. Prosecutors objected to the judge’s decision to depart from the advisory sentencing guidelines and could appeal the sentence on those grounds. Knizley said the defense also is likely to appeal the conviction.

That appeal likely would be greatly influenced by how the U.S. Supreme Court rules on a different case that the high court will address this term. Knizley also represented the doctor in that case.

“Whatever the court rules there could certainly impact the issues of the trial in this case,” he said.

Beaverstock sent Maltbia home with some encouraging words.

“It’s my hope that through this process, you will be able to move forward positively,” he said.

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