Pill-pipeline trial opens against owner, 2 clinics

jhewlett@herald-leader.comMarch 5, 2012 

People from Eastern Kentucky came in droves to Michael Leman's pain clinics in Philadelphia and Cincinnati, and afterward, pills, including 40 milligram methadone tablets, started showing up in large quantities in Eastern Kentucky, Assistant U.S. Attorney Roger West told a federal jury in Lexington on Monday.

All Leman thought about was the money, West said.

"It was all about the bottom dollar," he said.

West's comments were part of his opening statement in the trial of Leman and two businesses he owned, Urgent Care of Philadelphia and Urgent Care of Cincinnati, which fall under the umbrella of Urgent Care Services LLC of Louisiana. The charges against the defendants include conspiracy to distribute oxycodone and methadone and conspiracy to launder drug money. Leman and his clinics allegedly were part of one of the largest interstate pill-pipeline cases uncovered in recent years, with their crimes allegedly taking place between late 2004 and mid-2008.

The clinics in Cincinnati and Philadelphia had no X-ray or MRI equipment and no equipment for making casts for broken bones; they just had blood pressure and height- and weight-measuring equipment, West said. Within a few months after the Cincinnati clinic opened, a nearby apothecary became the largest dispenser of methadone in Ohio, he said.

West said he plans to call as witnesses many of the more than 30 people prosecuted thus far in connection with the alleged pill pipeline, including people who have worked at Leman's clinics and people from Eastern Kentucky.

Defense attorney Rick Simmons of New Orleans, who represents Leman, told the jurors that lies are going to be a problem in the case and to take witnesses' testimony with a grain of salt.

Simmons described his client, a Louisiana resident, as a man with an eighth-grade education — he eventually received a high school equivalency diploma — who is a "little aggressive."

Leman, 46, worked his way up the ladder in the Popeyes restaurant chain and later opened various businesses of his own. He still owns several medical clinics in Louisiana, Simmons said.

Talking about the criminal case against Leman, Simmons said that patients lied about their medical conditions; staffers in the clinics' offices made side deals with patients and lied to doctors; and doctors lied about their pill-prescribing practices to management. All of it occurred without Leman's knowledge, he said.

The problems in the case come from doctors, and Leman is a businessman, not a doctor, Simmons said.

Defense attorney Glenn Burns, also of New Orleans, who represents the two clinics, said he would reserve his opening statement for a later time.

A jury of 10 women and four men, two of whom are alternates, are hearing the case, which is expected to last about four weeks.

Jennifer Hewlett: (859) 231-3308. Twitter: @HLpublicsafety.

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