By Peter Whoriskey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 29, 2006; C01
MIAMI, April 28 -- Talk radio icon Rush Limbaugh surrendered to authorities Friday on a charge of committing fraud to obtain prescription drugs, concluding an investigation that for more than two years has hovered over the law-and-order conservative.
The charge will be dropped in 18 months, said his attorney, Roy Black, provided that Limbaugh continues treatment for drug addiction, as he has for 2 1/2 years. According to an agreement with the Palm Beach County state's attorney's office, Limbaugh also must pay $30,000 to defray the costs of the investigation, as well as $30 a month for his supervision.
The agreement is not an admission of guilt to the charge, which was fraud by concealing information to obtain a prescription.
A spokesman for the state's attorney's office, Mike Edmondson, said the agreement dropping the charge is "standard for first-time offenders who admit their addiction."
Prosecutors had contended that Limbaugh engaged in "doctor-shopping" -- that is, deceiving several doctors to receive overlapping prescriptions for painkillers. He has filed a plea of not guilty with the court.
"Mr. Limbaugh and I have maintained from the start that there was no doctor-shopping, and we continue to hold this position," Black said in a statement.
In court documents, investigators connected Limbaugh to 19 prescriptions for the drugs Lorcet, Norco and hydrocodone called in between April and August 2003. The prescriptions were issued by doctors in New York, Florida and California. According to medical records, Limbaugh's doctor in Palm Beach County was unaware of some of the other prescriptions.
Limbaugh was using prodigious amounts of the painkillers, according to the documents. In May 2003, a prescription for 50 tablets of Lorcet was filled for Limbaugh at the Zitomer Pharmacy on Madison Avenue in New York. The tablets were to be taken at a rate of two a day, and at that pace the prescription should have lasted 25 days. Three days later, a prescription was filled for Limbaugh at the same pharmacy for another 50 tablets. A third prescription for 96 tablets of Norco was filled about the same time at the Lewis Pharmacy in Palm Beach, according to the court documents.
Limbaugh, accompanied by Black, turned himself in about 4 p.m. Friday, was fingerprinted, photographed and released, said Palm Beach County sheriff's spokeswoman Teri Barbera.
He did not appear perturbed. "If you look at his picture, he has a smile on his face," she said.
Attorney Black said in his statement that because Limbaugh had planned to continue treatment in any case, "we believe the outcome for him personally will be much as if he had fought the charge and won."
The news that Limbaugh, a savage critics of others' moral behavior, was addicted to drugs was taken as a sign of hypocrisy by his detractors. His friends and staunchest fans, however, said Limbaugh was merely working through the kinds of challenges that can affect anyone.
Limbaugh long has been, and remains, the biggest draw on talk radio. His weekday program is syndicated to nearly 600 AM and FM stations around the country. Locally, he is heard on WMAL (570 AM) from noon to 3 p.m. Limbaugh also is widely considered the most powerful conservative voice on the air, reaching perhaps 10 million people each week.
Although some analysts dismiss his influence, saying he appeals only to his like-minded "Dittoheads," his opinions on topics such as Supreme Court nominees and immigration reform often reflect the sentiments of the conservative base of the Republican Party.
Limbaugh's skeptical interview of Vice President Cheney about President Bush's nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court helped fuel opposition to her, which led Miers to withdraw her nomination.
Limbaugh often is called "the man who saved AM radio." Since the late 1980s, he has been one of the most popular draws on the AM dial, invigorating a number of stations that had lost listeners to FM music stations.
The investigation into Limbaugh's drug purchases has been slowed by legal wrangling, as defense attorneys challenged search warrants and requests for medical records, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors previously had said Limbaugh received about 2,000 painkillers, prescribed by four doctors over six months, at a pharmacy near his Palm Beach mansion.
He has admitted being addicted to pain medications taken for back trouble and took a five-week leave from his broadcasting duties in 2003 to enter a rehabilitation program.
Limbaugh's leave of absence came after the National Enquirer reported that his use of painkillers was under investigation by Florida authorities. The story was based partly on an account of a former housekeeper at his estate.
Once back on the air, he said he was "powerless" to overcome his drug addiction without professional help, but vowed not to turn into "a linguine-spined liberal."
Staff writer Paul Farhi and research editor Lucy Shackelford contributed to this report.