Chiropractor pleads guilty to fraud
On taped call, she advised against drugs for epileptic
Thursday, July 03, 2003BY PETE SHELLEM
Of The Patriot-News
A taped phone call in which a Luzerne County chiropractor assured a woman that a dying epileptic would be all right without anti-seizure medication led to a guilty plea to fraud yesterday in U.S. Middle District Court.
Joanne M. Gallagher, 43, of Hazleton, pleaded guilty to a single count of mail fraud which carries a maximum term of five years in prison.
She also must give up her license and stop practicing under the plea deal accepted by U.S. District Judge Christopher C. Connor.
She could have faced up to life in prison had she been convicted of fraud in the 1999 death of Kimberly Strohecker, 31, of Hegins.
Strohecker died after suffering massive seizures while under the care of Gallagher, who claimed she could treat epilepsy and Down syndrome through chiropractic.
Gallagher's trial was abruptly halted last week after prosecutors announced they had received new evidence in the case.
The evidence was the tape of a telephone call between Strohecker's fiance's mother and the chiropractor the night before Strohecker died.
During the call, Marcella Schade expressed concerns about Strohecker's condition and repeatedly asked if she could die or suffer brain damage without further treatment.
Gallagher assured Schade that the seizures and vomiting were a result of Strohecker's purging her system of medication.
"Eventually you will see her just go into a peaceful sleep," Gallagher told Schade, according to a transcript of the taped conversation. "And it's going to take her brain a little while, she's going to be tired for a while, but she'll recover."
Schade found Strohecker dead the next morning.
When the trial opened, Assistant U.S. Attorney Gordon Zubrod told the jury that Gallagher was responsible for Strohecker's "slow and horrible death."
He said Strohecker, who had lived fairly normally on medications, arrived at her last appointment with Gallagher in a wheelchair, wearing adult diapers, choking on vomit, with her tongue nearly bitten through.
Although Gallagher billed for spinal adjustments, Zubrod said her only treatment consisted of waving her hands around her head and lightly touching her in what she termed balancing the meninges, the protective membranes around the brain.
Chiropractors are prohibited by state law from treating illnesses outside their expertise.
Gallagher's attorney, Matthew Gover, initially blamed Strohecker's fiance for the death, saying he was a Jehovah's Witness determined to get his bride-to-be off drugs.
PETE SHELLEM: 255-8156 or firstname.lastname@example.org