Limbaugh strikes plea deal

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WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) – Rush Limbaugh declared victory Monday after signing a deal with prosecutors that will dismiss a prescription fraud charge in 18 months if he complies with the terms.

Under the deal, Limbaugh cannot own a gun, must submit to random drug tests and has to continue treatment for his acknowledged addiction to painkillers. But he did not have to admit guilt, and he continued to proclaim his innocence on his radio show.

“From my point of view, the end result will be as if I had gone to court and won, but the matter is concluded much sooner,” the 55-year-old conservative commentator told his listeners. “I have spent thousands of hours and millions of dollars with lawyers over the past 27 months fighting this at every stage.”

He pleaded not guilty Friday to seeking a prescription from a physician in 2003 without revealing that he had received medications from another practitioner within 30 days. The charge carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.

The deal also requires Limbaugh to be available to a court officer for any questioning throughout the 18-month period. The Palm Beach County state attorney’s office may revoke or modify the deal if he violates the terms.

Limbaugh’s attorney, Roy Black, said his client has been undergoing scheduled and random drug tests as part of a voluntary treatment program and has passed them all.

Before his own problems became public, Limbaugh had decried drug use and abuse, often making the case that drug crimes deserve punishment.

“Drug use, some might say, is destroying this country. And we have laws against selling drugs, pushing drugs, using drugs, importing drugs. … And so if people are violating the law by doing drugs, they ought to be accused and they ought to be convicted and they ought to be sent up,” Limbaugh said on his short-lived television show on Oct. 5, 1995.

Prosecutors launched their investigation in 2003 after Limbaugh’s housekeeper alleged he abused OxyContin and other painkillers. He entered a five-week rehabilitation program that year and publicly blamed his addiction on back pain.

Limbaugh had blasted the investigation as a “fishing” expedition and repeatedly maintained he was innocent.

Prosecutors accused him of illegally deceiving multiple doctors to receive overlapping prescriptions, a practice known as doctor shopping. After seizing his medical records, authorities learned Limbaugh received up to 2,000 painkillers, prescribed by four doctors in six months.

The charge against Limbaugh alleged that he illegally obtained about 40 pills, said Mike Edmondson, a state attorney’s spokesman. He would not elaborate or explain why prosecutors scaled back the case.

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