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Ill doctor sentenced to house

Ailing health keeps Altoona physician out of jail on several drug, sex offenses

May 17, 2008
By Phil Ray,
HOLLIDAYSBURG — A once-respected Altoona doctor who entered guilty pleas to several charges including drug offenses was not sent to jail Friday because of his poor health.

Dr. Ralph W. Crawford Jr. will spend the next 24 months on home detention, which means he will wear an anklet, be subject to periodic telephone calls and not be permitted to leave his home without permission of parole and probation officials.

Crawford, 68, is suffering from congestive heart failure, cancer and a number of other medical problems, said his attorney, Steven P. Passarello.

He entered Blair County Judge Elizabeth Doyle’s courtroom using a motorized wheelchair and stood before the judge with the aid of crutches.

Agent Anthony Sassano of the state Attorney General’s Office said he and Assistant District Attorney Jackie Bernard met several times to consider what type of sentence to recommend for Crawford, who entered guilty pleas in 2007 to 17 offenses that included issuing false prescriptions, hindering law enforcement in tracking down a wanted individual and patronizing prostitutes.

Sassano said the county would be responsible for Crawford’s medical bills if he were in jail.

“We believe it would be a large expense to Blair County,” Bernard said.

Crawford will be on probation for five years after the completion of his home detention sentence.

He also turned in his medical license and will not practice medicine again.

County parole and probation officials will check Crawford’s home to make sure the home detention system will work.

Doug Weaver, co-director of the county’s Parole and Probation Department, said he tells offenders to consider home monitoring like being in prison, only at home.

Those on home detention cannot leave their homes, except in instances when they receive permission to buy food, attend medical appointments or go to religious services.

They wear anklets and are called periodically by a monitoring service.

Crawford must remain close to the phone all day, Weaver said, which means he either must install a separate phone line for the monitoring device or call waiting.

Passarello said the sentence imposed on Crawford took into consideration everyone’s needs.

Crawford could have received 209 years in prison and $3.2 million in fines for the charges against him.

He was charged with issuing prescriptions for drugs such as OxyContin, Fentanyl, Percocet and Vicodin, often in exchange for sex.

The investigation began in December 2004 when one of his former employees, Catherine Hamel, said Crawford wrote prescriptions for her, knowing she did not need the drugs.

He paid $10,000 Friday as part of his home monitoring expense and costs and fines.

Passarello said Crawford does not have a job and is not practicing medicine.

Mirror Staff Writer Phil Ray is at 946-7468.

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