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Thief River Falls nurse sentenced for posing as doctor to get drugs

THIEF RIVER FALLS, Minn. -- A recently fired nurse was sentenced to 14 days in jail and five years of supervised probation Monday for illegally obtaining prescription drugs by posing as a doctor that she worked for at the MeritCare clinic here.

Melissa Beier, 33, had earlier pleaded guilty to the charge, and her attorney, Kip Fontaine, had asked the court to giver her a "stayed adjudication," which effectively would have acted as a dismissal of the fifth-degree felony charge.

But state district Judge Tamara Yon said she went along with the prosecutor's recommended felony sentence with behind-bars time because Beier had been obtaining the drugs for so long, from January 2007 until getting caught June 30 this year.

The judge also said that Beier was a nurse, overusing drugs while caring for people, "not someone sitting at home" getting high.

Fontaine told Yon that Beier has two children at home, has a $650-per-month house payment and is working two jobs, at United Parcel Service and at Wal-Mart. A felony sentence and jail time "would affect these children and the wider community."

Beier read a short statement before her sentencing. "I am very sorry for what happened," she said. "I'm embarrassed."

Fontaine declined comment after the hearing Monday.

Dr. Eloise-Marie Clark, the MeritCare obstetrician/gynecologist whose identity Beier stole, asked Yon to sentence Beier to 14 days in jail. She also asked for Beier to pay her legal fees and "for a personally delivered, publishable letter of apology from Missy (Beier)."

She told the court that it was "the most painful day of my professional career," when she "learned that my nurse with whom I had worked so closely for almost two years had ultimately betrayed me. Missy and I, I thought, had a very special relationship. I trusted her completely, she socialized frequently with my family and friends, had tremendous responsibility in her role as my nurse."

Clark said Beier was a very good nurse who began acting erratically and became "belligerent" if confronted over her strange behavior. She decided not to work with Beier, Clark said, but lobbied the clinic's medical director to keep Beier on in a different position.

Clark said she spent $2,200 in legal fees to make sure that Beier's use of her identity didn't ruin her career as a doctor.

Beier's full sentence would have been a year and a day in prison but she would not have to serve it under several conditions, the judge decided. She must finish chemical dependency treatment and avoid alcohol, drugs and crime. She must also pay Clark restitution.

Fontaine asked that Beier not be sentenced to serve time in the Pennington County jail because in 2000, her brother had committed suicide in the jail, which has "some traumatic memories" for her.

Yon said Beier could serve her 14 days elsewhere, as long as it didn't cost Pennington County any extra money.

Beier must begin serving her 14 days by Jan. 12; she is eligible for work release.

Another nurse, Sarah Sabol, 31, also pleaded guilty to the same crime as Beier's. She is scheduled to be sentenced Dec. 29.

Assistant Pennington County Attorney Kristin Hanson said she will seek "exactly" the same sentence for Sabol.

Sabol and Beier both worked at the same MeritCare clinic. Thief River Falls police said they used at least four doctors' names to get the painkillers Hydrocodone and Propoxy. A local pharmacist's suspicion led police to investigate.

Neither nurse had a criminal record.

The Grand Forks Herald and DL Newspapers are both owned by Forum Communications Co.