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The Daily



10-04-03: Santanello defense seeks release of records


Attorneys for Celina physician Dr. Thomas Santanello have subpoenaed records from various state and local medical and drug agencies they say are necessary to defend the doctor against a mammoth felony case against him.
But the local prosecution team and attorneys representing a number of state agencies are against handing over the documents, citing state confidentiality rules. They urged the court to quash the subpoenas.
Visiting Judge Jeffrey M. Welbaum heard arguments on the issue during a Friday hearing in Mercer County Common Pleas Court.
Present at the hearing were Santanello and his attorneys, Ralph Buss, Mark Kaiser and Dave Koerner. Mercer County Prosecuting Attorney Andy Hinders and Assistant Prosecutor Matt Fox are representing the state in the gargantuan case against Santanello.
One year ago, Santanello, 51, of 153 Waterbury Court, Southmoor Shores, was arrested at his St. Marys home by the Mercer County Sheriff’s Office, after being served with two warrants after he was indicted by a grand jury.
At his arraignment, he pled not guilty to 214 felony charges lodged against him. He remains free on a $200,000 bond.
One of the indictments alleges 210 violations of drug laws, including drug trafficking and illegal prescription processing offenses while a second indictment alleges four theft offenses, including one count of Ohio Bureau of Worker’s Compensation fraud, one count of theft by deception and two counts of falsification.
The offenses range from felonies of first degree to felonies of the third degree.
Rebecca Albers, senior assistant attorney general, was present at Friday’s hearing on behalf of the State Medical Board and State Pharmacy Board.
“Any information pertaining to criminal matters is confidential,” Albers told the court regarding unspecified information on Santanello held by the two agencies she represented in the hearing.
The Ohio Board of Nursing has a similar confidentiality statute, said Holly Fischer, assistant attorney general.
“Information is confidential, (even) with respect to exculpatory material. It can be disclosed only to law enforcement and the board itself does not investigate. It has taken no action against Santanello and can’t. The law is very clear, there is no room to violate the statute,” Fisher said.
The Bureau of Worker’s Compensation and Bureau of Criminal Investigation and Identification were represented by Keith Blosser, also with the attorney general’s office.
“These investigations are sensitive in nature and could compromise sensitive material,” Blosser warned about the information being sought by the defense team.
Constitutional rights supersede the state’s confidentiality statutes, argued Kaiser. He was particularly seeking witness statements and police records.
Buss added that the records would prove favorable to his client, citing the State Nursing Board’s records in particular.
“They have information on a person who may be part of a plea agreement,” Buss said.
Lynn Stucke, who worked as a nurse in Santanello’s office in Celina, was part of a plea agreement with the state prosecutors, Kaiser added.
“We want to know what break they give her and how big a break. We know there was a deal and we have the right to know,” he said.
But Fox said no deal was made with Stucke, who is expected to testify against her former employer.
Stucke voluntarily surrendered her license, Fisher told the court, and it was permanently revoked.
The State Medical Board, in its investigation of Santanello, alleged in an April, 2001, affidavit that Stucke administered trigger point injections and spinal blocks and had performed carpal tunnel surgeries. Those procedures are supposed to be done by a doctor.
“We have evidence there was a deal,” Koerner countered to the prosecutor’s statement of no deal.
The indictment charging Santanello with drug trafficking and illegal processing of drugs lists 167 illegal processing of drugs charges and 43 drug trafficking offenses.
“We’re trying to get a handle on the charges. It’s our position that the bulk amount is a key issue,” Koerner said in his argument before the court.
Most of the counts charge that Santanello knowingly sold or offered to sell a controlled substance in an amount equal to or exceeding the “bulk amount” which is not in accordance with what the law allows.
“Our position (question) is, how do you figure drug trafficking in excess of bulk amount?” Koerner said.
The judge also heard the defendant’s motions to compel discovery and privilege issues.
“We feel we didn’t have all the discovery material. They must provide all police and witness statements. There are some we haven’t gotten” Koerner argued.
After listening to the arguments and counter arguments for a time, Welbaum proposed the parties involved attempt to come to an agreement.
“The question is, what can we do to resolve these matters,” he said. He urged them to sit down and work out an agreement on discovery and exculpatory information that both sides could live with.
A decision is expected next week on the motions following the negotiations between the attorneys for the prosecution, defense and those from the various agencies and bureaus involved.
Welbaum is hearing the case after Mercer County Judge Jeffrey Ingraham recused himself from the case due to having represented Santanello in a legal matter years ago.
If convicted on all counts of both indictments, the maximum prison term would be 631 years. The maximum potential fine for all counts in both indictments is $1,292,500.
The Bureau of Worker’s compensation (BWC) also is seeking restitution of over $100,000 alleged to have been illegally received by Santanello for worker treatments.
Santanello, 51, is a doctor of osteopathic medicine, specializing in pain management, sports medicine, neurological and spinal disorders. He has not practiced since closure of his Celina office at 1107 N. Main Street in early 2001.
In November, two days of court and a potential third and fourth day have been set aside for motion hearings on suppression of evidence in the case.


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