MILWAUKEE — It's been four years since a local doctor admitted he was part of a major cocaine ring. The other people who got in trouble in that case have already spent years behind bars. But Dr. Steven Armus appears to be getting some special treatment. The federal court sentencing for the dermatologist has been postponed more than a dozen times over the last four years.
He's managed to stay out of prison for one reason — and that's because he's been snitching on his own patients.
"I've never seen anything like this and in the research I've done nationally, nothing like this has ever happened before," says Pat Caffery, a Racine defense attorney who represents one of Armus' former patients.
Dr. Armus was so addicted to cocaine, he offered to be the bank for one of Wisconsin's biggest drug dealers. At one point, he bought $30,000 worth of coke -- sometimes paying for it with checks drawn on the account of his former medical practice, Great Lakes Dermatology. He even sold coke to other local doctors.
But that was years ago.
So why didn't he lose his medical license? And why has he never been sentenced to prison?
"Obviously the doctor was looking to help himself and no one seems to care how he was doing that," says Kenosha lawyer Denise Hertz-McGrath.
Cafferty and Hertz-McGrath are both defense attorneys who were hired by some of the doctor's former patients.
"Both of them are outraged. They have been embarrassed publicly as a result of this," Cafferty said.
All three patients were charged with state drug offenses after they gave Dr. Armus cocaine. But here's the kicker — the patients weren't big-time drug dealers. They were set up by Dr. Armus, who started working as a confidential informant shortly after his own legal troubles. Court records show he offered to help federal agents by going undercover. He'd help cops catch other drug dealers and in return, a judge might go easy on him.
"In this case, he targeted people who were not criminals. He targeted his patients, who were basically innocent people," Cafferty said.
It's unclear if law enforcement realized there would be privacy law concerns when they put a wire on a doctor.
"I think it's wrong," Hertz-McGrath said.
Fast-forward four years, and his patients have faced the music in court, but Dr. Armus still hasn't been sentenced for his own crimes.
"I question the decision making on this, on how anyone in government or law enforcement can believe that this is appropriate, just, or reasonable," Hertz-McGrath says.
His former patients have now filed a complaint against him with the Wisconsin Medical Examining Board.
"They are hopeful that the state is going to take Dr. Armus' license as a result of what he did to them," Cafferty says.
His former patients are arguing the doctor violated their trust and their privacy by accessing their medical records to set up drugs buys. When this all went down, Dr. Armus had to be drug tested 56 times a year to keep his medical license.
In 2014, since he was clean and had done everything he was supposed to do, the Medical Examining Board removed the restrictions on his license. He is free to practice in Wisconsin. Arizona and Illinois previously revoked his medical license in order to protect the public.
His sentencing has once again been delayed until November 23rd.