HOBBLED BY prostate cancer, a blood disorder and a partly amputated right foot, Dr. Richard Minicozzi, 79, defended himself in a booming voice Tuesday in a federal courtroom, where he was sentenced to seven years in prison for turning his South Philadelphia medical practice into what prosecutors called a lucrative "pill mill."
In selling prescription drugs to his low-income patients, he was trying to help them, said Minicozzi, adding: "I felt sorry for them. Now I'm in trouble. I'm begging at the mercy of the court."
Minicozzi, who was convicted after a jury trial in March, said that his mistakes in judgment were the result of being distracted by an "insane" brother and having to provide for two of his three adult daughters, who suffer from spinal muscular atrophy that requires them to use motorized wheelchairs.
Both disabled daughters - Viola, who has an MBA, and Alessia, who has a Ph.D. in medical sociology - gave tearful statements about how important their father was to their professional success and to their daily existence.
Also speaking for the doctor were his wife, Maria Teresa Calderon; a third daughter, Arianna Minicozzi, a pediatrician; and her husband, William Pomilla, also a physician.
In arguing for a sentence of 151 to 188 months, Assistant U.S. Attorney Mary Kay Costello said that Minicozzi was "nothing more than a common drug dealer" who earned more than $1.5 million in cash from January 2005 to September 2010 by selling prescription drugs, including hydrocodone, alprazolam and prescriptions for oxycodone, to cash-paying customers whom he did not even examine.
Although U.S. Chief Judge J. Curtis Joyner sentenced Minicozzi under federal guidelines because of his military service, lack of a prior criminal record and the care he provided to his daughters, he blasted him for contributing to what he called the prescription-drug-abuse "epidemic."
Defense attorney Jeffrey M. Miller said he was pleased that the judge gave Minicozzi a break but was hoping for less prison time due to his client's "unique family circumstance."
Minicozzi also was fined $40,000, lost his medical license and may be forced in a subsequent court proceeding to sell his family's Elkins Park home.
He will be on three years of supervised release following his prison term.
He must surrender in 45 days.