Rush Limbaugh was arrested Friday on a doctor-shopping charge in the Palm Beach County State Attorney's Office's long-running investigation into his drug use, and agreed to supervision for 18 months while he continues his rehabilitation.
Limbaugh, 55, a Palm Beach resident, his lawyers and prosecutors reached an agreement on the single felony charge, and the conservative radio talk show host surrendered at the Palm Beach County Jail late Friday afternoon. He spent less than an hour in custody and was fingerprinted before being released on $3,000 bail. Some sheriff's deputies greeted him and shook his hand.
The agreement requires Limbaugh to continue seeing the therapist who has been treating him since he admitted to an addiction to painkillers in October 2003 and entered a month-long treatment program. It also requires him to undergo drug testing and pay $30,000 toward the cost of the investigation, according to prosecutors. Limbaugh is expected to sign the agreement Monday and broadcast his afternoon radio show that day from Palm Beach.
If Limbaugh successfully completes the terms of his 18 months of supervision, the felony charge will be dismissed and Limbaugh's record will be clean.
"If he does not successfully complete it, then the state will go forward with the charge," Palm Beach County State Attorney's Office spokesman Michael Edmondson said.
Prosecutors routinely use such "pre-trial intervention" agreements with drug offenders, Edmondson said.
"It is a resolution that is standard for first-time offenders with no other criminal history or arrests and individuals with a history of drug addiction," Edmondson said.
The doctor-shopping charge alleges Limbaugh obtained overlapping prescriptions from three doctors, one in New York and two in Palm Beach County, without telling them. That is a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison.
While Limbaugh was being treated for back pain at the Jupiter Outpatient Surgery Center, he signed a pain-management contract that required him to get all his drugs from the center and reveal which pharmacy he would use to fill the prescriptions, according to Limbaugh's arrest affidavit.
The pharmacy was the Lewis Pharmacy on Palm Beach, owned by Michael Carbone, who was interviewed by investigators in November of 2003, according to the affidavit.
"During the interview Carbone stated he became suspicious of Mr. Limbaugh's medication use," the affidavit says. "Carbone further stated that he became concerned due to the amount of pain medications Limbaugh was receiving and the number of doctors that were providing prescriptions for Mr. Limbaugh."
Limbaugh came under investigation after his former housekeeper went to prosecutors in December 2002 and told them she and her husband had been selling Limbaugh large quantities of hydrocodone, OxyContin and other prescription drugs for several years, according to search warrants used to seize Limbaugh's medical records from four doctors.
The agreement announced Friday came as prosecutors were considering taking their evidence before a grand jury.
At a Friday news conference, Roy Black, Limbaugh's attorney, would not say the resolution was a victory for Limbaugh. He characterized it as "common sense put into the system."
"It's unfair to prosecute anyone addicted to pain medication," Black said.
Black reiterated that Limbaugh adamantly denies committing any crimes, explaining that his client agreed to the single doctor-shopping charge because it's necessary for a charge to be filed to enter a diversion program. Limbaugh has entered a not-guilty plea with the court, Black said. What Limbaugh admits to, Black said, is having a drug addiction.
"It should be recognized that people like Rush should be helped, not prosecuted," he said.
During talks with the Palm Beach County State Attorney's Office, Black said it was the state that requested $30,000 for the cost of prosecution. Black said he didn't have a problem with the figure.
"I don't think it's an admission of anything," he said. "We thought the citizens of Florida shouldn't bear the cost."
Palm Beach County criminal defense attorney Robert Gershman, who was not involved in the case, said Limbaugh's diversion program is common for first-time drug offenders, but the $30,000 is not. A typical offender pays about $50 a month for the cost of supervision and nothing more, Gershman said.
"I think, sadly, sometimes money comes into play, because that is a lot of money," Gershman said. "The only thing uncommon about Limbaugh's case is the time, effort and money spent on one case to end up a diversion."
Limbaugh felt "apprehensive" on Friday, his attorney said, but "feels a great burden has been lifted."
"He told me this is the first day of the rest of his life," Black said. "He loves where he is right now."
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