MIDDLETOWN — A doctor accused of prescribing drugs to cash-paying addicts so readily he was called "The Candy Man" was spared jail time at his sentencing in Superior Court Tuesday.
Dr. Scott Houghton, who pleaded guilty in September to four counts relating to the prescription of and improper storage of drugs, will be on probation for five years. A seven-year prison sentence was suspended.
Prosecutor Russell Zentner had recommended four years in prison, but Judge David Gold noted Tuesday that Houghton has been punished already: He has not practiced medicine for two years and "one can seriously question whether the doctor will ever practice again."
While he is on probation, Houghton must not practice medicine and must do 250 hours of community service, Gold said. He also must make sure information about himself is removed from any professional websites.
Zentner expressed disappointment about the sentence, saying outside the courtroom, "I felt his conduct was pervasive enough to warrant a jail sentence."
Houghton's attorney, William F. Dow III, said his client is grateful for the suspended sentence. He said a report the judge reviewed before the sentencing cited his client's tight-knit family — members of which were in court.
He also has ties to the community, having been a doctor for youth sports teams and a coach, Dow said.
In all, about a dozen supporters — including former patients — attended. None of the supporters, nor any victims, addressed the judge.
Houghton declined to make a statement to the court, too, although he later said, "I'm just relieved it's over."
He said he hopes to educate doctors about treating substance abusers.
Dow reminded the court something he had said when Houghton pleaded guilty Sept. 24: His client maintains his innocence. Houghton pleaded under the Alford doctrine, which means he doesn't admit guilt but acknowledges there is enough evidence to be convicted after a trial.
Houghton originally faced 47 charges, all felonies, and prison terms totaling 704 years. He pleaded guilty to two counts of illegally prescribing a narcotic substance and one count each of illegally prescribing a controlled substance and failure to maintain proper security and storage. Many of his patients were seeking treatment for drug addictions.
Allegations against Houghton came to light in 2008. Sources told drug control agents that Houghton would issue unnecessary multiple, overlapping prescriptions for narcotics and controlled substances for numerous patients.
"Some of the pharmacies went so far as to refuse to refill the order," Zentner told the judge Tuesday.
He would counsel patients in the hallway of his practice and accept $100 cash payments for refills, the prosecutor said. One woman was getting three shots of Demerol a day and in exchange gave him 11 tickets to shows at Mohegan Sun, hotel stays, dinners and a free admission to a wine tasting, Zentner said.
Houghton made a "conscious decision to instruct the staff not to record certain visits," he said.
He also kept prescribing controlled substances after his registration to issue such medications was suspended, he said. Houghton had said he didn't know the medication was a controlled substance, something Zentner said Tuesday was "disengenuous."
According to the 39-page warrant for Houghton's arrest, a confidential source who monitored recovery programs for addicts said residents of substance abuse recovery houses "refer to Dr. Scott Houghton as 'the candy man.' "
Authorities raided the doctor's office on Feb. 2, 2010, and seized numerous boxes of records. Demerol was found stored improperly in a refrigerator in a common area of the office. Houghton's license to practice medicine was suspended in August 2011.
When interviewed for a pre-sentencing report, Houghton lacked "contrition," Zentner told the judge Tuesday, labeling the doctor as "self-serving" and "self-congratulatory."
"This is classic narcissism that we have here today," Zentner said. Houghton looked off to the side as Zentner spoke.
Dow told the court that Suboxone, which is used to treat opioid addictions, was essentially an "experimental drug," when Houghton started prescribing it. His client was guilty of "naivete" as opposed to embarking on a "mercenary venture," he said.
His client was "unable to cope with the reality of treating people with addiction," Dow told the court, and "did not keep his head in the game, to be quite honest."
In addition to Houghton's family support, the judge cited his lack of criminal history and "impressive educational background" in sparing him jail time. He also had received letters from patients on his behalf.
"Those things have to be factored in," Gold said.
Still, Gold said, turning to Houghton, "If anything, your behavior is deserving of condemnation, not commendation."