A Louisiana businessman convicted of distributing oxycodone and methadone pills in Eastern Kentucky by using clinics to prescribe the drugs to bogus patients was sentenced in Lexington Thursday to 15 years in federal prison.
U.S. District Judge Gregory Van Tatenhove also ordered Michael Leman, 46, of Slidell, La., to pay $1 million in restitution to two Kentucky agencies: one that handles crime victim compensation and the other dealing with substance abuse.
Van Tatenhove also fined Leman's two pain clinic businesses $50,000. Prosecutors said the businesses are defunct. Assistant U.S. Attorney Roger West said the fines would serve as a "death sentence" for the companies.
Leman owned Urgent Care Services in Cincinnati and Philadelphia. A jury in March convicted him of conspiring with several of his employees to prescribe methadone and oxycodone to bogus patients who were working with drug dealers to distribute the medications in the Appalachian region of Kentucky, where prescription drug abuse is rampant.
Van Tatenhove told Leman it was difficult to overstate the devastation of legal drugs being used for illegal purposes in Eastern Kentucky.
"People die because of this criminal activity," Van Tatenhove said near the end of the three-hour sentencing hearing in federal court in Lexington. "A generation of Kentuckians are held in bondage to this addiction."
Leman and his companies were charged with conspiring to distribute oxycodone and methadone in Eastern Kentucky and conspiring to launder the sales' profits.
From 2004 to 2008, authorities say, runners would travel five to 16 hours from Kentucky to clinics in Louisiana, Pennsylvania and Ohio to pick up prescriptions for drugs. Prosecutors say the runners would keep half the prescriptions for themselves and sell the rest in places such as Pike and Floyd counties in Eastern Kentucky.
The U.S. Attorney's Office in Lexington said the case marks its first prosecution of a pain clinic owner.
Tears and cracking voices marked the sentencing hearing, as family and friends of Leman testified and watched from the gallery.
Leman described being a felon as "a piece of crap. A felon is the worst thing you can be. It's a substandard citizen."
Leman's wife, Amy Leman, 34, in testimony halted several times by tears, described her husband as "honest" with "good instincts" and having a soft spot for his five children.
"He's not an evil person," Amy Leman said as her husband sat at the defense table and cried.
During an emotional exchange with the judge, Michael Leman said he was "not the monster" portrayed by prosecutors and added that two rogue doctors wrote the illicit prescriptions without his knowledge. Leman said the case has taught him that the perception of what his businesses did mattered more than whether he actually knew anything illegal was happening.
"I never wrote this stuff. I never said, 'Do this, do that,'" Leman said. "I'd love to tell you I did this and I did that, please save me. But I can't."
"You stand here to be sentenced today not because the optics were bad, but because the consequences were bad," Van Tatenhove replied. "You need to live with that."
Van Tatenhove could have sentenced Leman to a maximum of 40 years. But, the judge noted, Leman has a long history of working with his 9-year-old son with autism and charitable work around south Louisiana. Those two factors played into the lesser sentence, the judge said.
Evidence and testimony at the trial showed that about 90 percent of patients who visited the Pennsylvania and Cincinnati clinics were from Eastern Kentucky. The clinics made a combined $1.2 million in cash over a period of 26 months.
Witnesses, including former employees, testified that little or no medical evaluations were done before patients were prescribed the drugs and that no one questioned why someone would drive five to 16 hours across state lines to go to the pain clinics.
The former employees, including several one-time doctors, testified that the clinics didn't have much medical equipment and that doctors were told to accept only cash payments from patients and charge Kentuckians $500 per visit, more than twice the amount in-state patients were charged.
Former Philadelphia doctor Randy Weiss and former Cincinnati doctor Stanley Naramore, both of whom have lost their medical licenses, have served four years in prison for their roles in the scheme. Van Tatenhove sentenced former clinic CEO Stephen Lyon, 47, in July to 18 months in federal prison for money laundering conspiracy.
Lyon pleaded guilty in April 2011. He was paid about $220,000 by the companies over a two-year period. He must report to a designated federal prison by Sept. 28.
Former clinic nurse Tonia Snook pleaded guilty to drug distribution conspiracy and was sentenced in July to a year and a day in federal prison.