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Couple sentenced for roles in drug scheme

| Friday, April 26, 2002, 12:00 p.m.

A former Allegheny County assistant public defender and his wife were sentenced to jail terms Thursday for illegally receiving prescription drugs that were fraudulently billed to a health care provider.

Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey Manning sentenced Kevin Walsh, 46, to six months to two years, and his wife, Donna Morford-Walsh, 42, both of Glenwood Drive, Monroeville, to 18 months to four years.

Manning said Walsh, who was using crutches because of a hip operation, can arrange to have his Allegheny County Jail term served at Renewal Inc. or some other alternative housing and work release program.

Both defendants were taken away by deputy sheriffs to begin their terms yesterday.

Manning directed that Walsh serve five years' probation after his jail term, and his wife serve two years' probation following her release from the state prison system. The couple also must pay nearly $15,000 in restitution to the medical insurance company for false billing of prescription pills.

The couple met when Walsh represented her on similar charges in 1992. They were charged together on the current offenses in April 2000 by the office of Attorney General Mike Fisher.

Walsh, who handled preliminary hearings for the public defender's office for 11 years, resigned after the charges were filed. He had pleaded guilty to five counts of violating the state pharmacy act. His wife, who worked for a physician, admitted guilt on two counts of insurance fraud.

In accordance with the plea agreement, hundreds of counts were dismissed in return for the guilty pleas.

According to the state Attorney General's office, the couple received prescriptions under a Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield policy when Morford-Walsh phoned them in to various pharmacies. The office said Morford-Walsh was not authorized to phone in prescriptions from the doctor's office.

Manning said Morford-Walsh was guilty of "a blatant misuse of a position of trust again." He said she was given four years' probation in 1992 for the same conduct.

Walsh, who apologized "for being caught up in this situation," said he was under the impression that the physicians had called in the prescriptions when he picked them up on 13 occasions from 1996-99.

Walsh said he had battled alcoholism and depression after the death of his first wife in an accident, and had used painkillers following 17 surgeries in recent years. Morford-Walsh said she had begun using drugs because of stress brought on by her infertility and several miscarriages.

Manning directed that the couple participate in substance abuse programs and drug testing as part of their probations.

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