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Amherst radiologist admits writing fraudulent painkiller prescriptions

Albert R. Cowie is an Amherst doctor known for his expertise in radiology.

He’s also a recovering drug addict now looking at nearly three years in prison.

Cowie, a 37-year-old graduate of the University at Buffalo School of Medicine, became the second doctor to appear in Buffalo federal court this week and admit that he wrote fraudulent prescriptions for painkillers.

He also admitted using them to feed his own drug problem.

“I was addicted to those medications,” Cowie told U.S. District Judge Lawrence J. Vilardo. “I issued scripts for those medications ... and then used some of those medications.”

Cowie said he wrote the illegal prescriptions for his now-former wife, but prosecutors claim he also wrote them for two others and, in each case, received some of the painkillers for his personal use.

On Thursday, he pleaded guilty to two felony charges – health care fraud and obtaining controlled substances by fraud – and now faces a recommended sentence of up to 33 months in prison.

“It started with Loritab,” Cowie said of the numerous painkillers he took over the years, “and then Percocet.”

Arrested last year outside his offices at Diagnostic Imaging Associates in Amherst, Cowie was initially accused of writing 280 illegal prescriptions over a four-year period ending in early 2014.

He also was charged with establishing a relationship with a prostitute, injecting her with heroin on one occasion and later giving her prescriptions for Xanax and Percocet.

Cowie did not admit to those crimes as part of his plea deal, but Assistant U.S. Attorney Frank Pimentel said he did agree that the allegations at the root of those charges could be considered by the court in weighing a prison sentence.

Cowie, who received his undergraduate degree from Canisius College, is the fifth Western New York doctor to be charged with distributing illegal drugs over the past four years. His guilty plea came just three days after Dr. Pravin V. Mehta of Niagara Falls was sentenced to two years in prison for illegally dispensing pain medication.

“This office is committed to identifying and prosecuting all traffickers of narcotics, whether they be medical professionals or corner drug dealers,” said U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul Jr.

Pimentel, at one point Thursday, mentioned an audiotape of a meeting between Cowie and one of the government’s confidential witnesses in explaining the government’s evidence against the doctor. Prosecutors have said in the past that Cowie’s efforts to get the witness to lie to insurance investigators about his prescription fraud are detailed on the tape.

“OK, so just say they were written for me even though they were written for you … is what you’re saying?” the witness reportedly asks Cowie.

“Right,” Cowie answers.

Defense attorney Robert M. Goldstein declined to comment Thursday, except to confirm that the future of Cowie’s medical license is still up in the air.

Cowie reportedly has signed a consent decree with the state that will delay action on his license until his sentencing in May. He is currently without the authority to prescribe medications.

Cowie’s guilty plea is the result of an investigation by the Drug Enforcement Administration, FBI, state Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement and Amherst police.