Closing arguments held in pain clinics trial

BRETT BARROUQUERE Associated Press Published:

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) -- A Louisiana businessman made $1.26 million over 26 months by heading a "flat criminal conspiracy" to funnel prescription drugs into eastern Kentucky through pain clinics in other states, a federal prosecutor said Monday during closing arguments of a criminal trial.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Roger West told jurors that 46-year-old Michael D. Leman of Slidell, La., controlled nearly every aspect of the organization, which utilized Urgent Care Services clinics in Cincinnati and Philadelphia to sell large amounts of oxycodone and methadone to dealers from Pike and Floyd counties. They then would take the medications back to the Appalachian region and sell it for a profit, West said.

"He started it. He supervised it," West told a panel of eight women and four men. "Michael Leman set the rules. It was everybody else's responsibility to follow them."

Leman and the Urgent Care clinics are charged with conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance and conspiracy to commit money laundering. Over the last four weeks, jurors heard multiple former employees of Urgent Care Services testify that the clinics were merely a front to sell the pills to people who weren't using it for medicinal reasons.

Many of the witnesses have pleaded guilty to drug offenses related to the investigation and are either in federal prison or are awaiting sentencing and facing likely incarceration.

Defense attorneys for Leman and the clinics spent Monday attacking prosecution witnesses as unreliable and making statements they believe will get them shorter prison terms.

Attorney Richard Simmons, who represents Leman, described the witnesses as "reaching for that brass ring" of a shorter prison sentence and being willing to lie under oath to get it.

"This is a big lie, and they bought into it," Simmons said as he pointed at West.

Glenn Burns, who represented the two clinics, said Leman was too involved with other businesses he had to direct the day-to-day activities of the clinics. Any criminal activity being committed by the staff happened without Leman's knowledge, Burns said.

"He never told the doctors how to practice medicine, never told the doctors what to prescribe," Burns said. "Mike Leman went into this business because he wanted to do it right. I submit to you he did."

On rebuttal, West acknowledged that the witnesses had troubled pasts but said they were telling the truth about how the clinics worked. West cited the testimony of multiple witnesses about how Leman visited the Cincinnati clinic and warned doctors not to lower the amount of medication prescribed because patients may not return, costing the clinic money. West also cited "a pattern" of Leman hiring doctors with professional, personal or financial problems who were willing to do what they were told without asking many questions.

"These were doctors who were not as skilled, not as sharp, so they can be manipulated by Michael Leman," West said.

An indictment says Leman conspired with several of his employees to prescribe methadone and oxycodone to bogus patients who were working with drug dealers to distribute them in eastern Kentucky. Authorities say runners would travel five to 16 hours from Kentucky to clinics in Louisiana, Pennsylvania and Ohio to pick up prescriptions for drugs that would be distributed in areas such as Pike and Floyd counties from 2004 through 2008.

The clinic CEO and a clinic nurse are awaiting sentencing. Two doctors pleaded guilty, lost their medical licenses and served four years in prison. Several of the people who sold the medication are in federal prison.

West also noted that Leman kept the Cincinnati clinic operating and the doctor on staff even after the FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration raided it in 2007. West also said the clinic did little actual medical work before prescribing medications.

"The patient files are, for lack of a better word, almost vacant," West said.