A federal jury convicted former physician Thomas McNeese Keller of four counts of distributing controlled substances, including Oxycodone, Carisoprodol and Diazepam, outside the scope of his professional practice and without a legitimate medical need.
Keller, 75, was a Santa Rosa resident and a licensed physician who ran a pain management practice in Santa Rosa when he was indicted in this current case on September 27, 2018.
Keller, a former Army neurosurgeon, had a checkered medical career. He was found to have engaged in sexual misconduct with several patients in 1989, for which he served six months in jail. He also was temporarily stripped of his license, which was eventually reinstated in 1994.
He opened his Santa Rosa medical practice in 2008, and started focusing on pain management about three years later. He suspended his medical practice in fall 2018, after learning that federal authorities were investigating him in connection with health care fraud and illegally distributing opioids.
He was arrested in August, 2019 and faced multiple charges brought by the California Attorney General’s Office, including second-degree murder in the deaths of four Sonoma County residents. Tripo Nelson, Ashlee McDonald, Dean Rielli and Jerri Lee Badenhop-Bionda all who died in 2016 or 2017 from drug overdoses while under Keller’s care. In May 2020, After nearly a week of deliberation, a jury found that Keller was not guilty of second-degree murder in the deaths of two of his patients but failed to reach a verdict on several other charges.
He then faced the current charges filed by prosecutors in federal court. At trial, the evidence demonstrated that Keller repeatedly prescribed the opioid oxycodone and other strong, addictive drugs to his patient, A.M., in dosages that far exceeded the usual course of professional practice and was for no legitimate medical need.
Trial evidence showed that on December 22, 2016, Keller prescribed Oxycodone, Diazepam, and Carisoprodol at the same time to A.M., knowing she did not need such a dangerous combination of drugs.
Evidence also showed that on January 20, 2017, Keller again distributed Diazepam, often called Valium, to A.M., and on February 16, 2017, distributed Oxycodone to A.M., again knowing the distribution of both was outside the scope of professional practice and not for a legitimate medical purpose. Keller was also convicted of distributing Carisoprodol to A.M. on July 10, 2017. Approximately two weeks later, A.M. died of an overdose of Oxycodone and other drugs.
The jury convicted Keller of four counts of distributing drugs outside the scope of professional practice in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), but was unable to reach a verdict on six counts.
Of the four counts of conviction, the counts of distributing Oxycodone carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and the counts of distributing Carisoprodol and Diazepam carry a maximum sentence of five years in prison. Additional fines, restitution, and periods of supervised release may also be ordered at sentencing.
United States District Judge Vince Chhabria has not yet set a date for a sentencing hearing. Keller remains out of custody pending his sentencing hearing.
Keller was facing disciplinary charges filed by the California Medical Board when he stipulated to surrender his license in November 2019. He is no longer licensed to practice in California.