Appeals court upholds conviction in pain pill case

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Associated Press

Posted on August 1, 2014 at 6:01 AM

Updated Friday, Aug 1 at 6:01 AM

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — A Louisiana businessman serving a 15-year prison sentence for illegally distributing oxycodone and methadone through pain clinic patients in eastern Kentucky has failed to show that a judge or prosecutors erred in his trial, a federal appeals court ruled Thursday.

The unsigned decision by a three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati likely means that 48-year-old Michael Leman of Slidell, Louisiana, must serve out his sentence and pay $1 million in restitution to an agency handling crime victim compensation and one dealing with substance abuse.

Leman owned Urgent Care Services in Ohio and Pennsylvania. A jury in March 2012 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.

In his appeal, Leman argued that he owned several businesses and hired others to run the clinics. Leman also argued that any wrongdoing only happened with a few of the hundreds of patients and only in two locations.

"Leman essentially pleads indeliberate ignorance," judges Damon Keith, Eric Clay and David McKeague wrote. "Unfortunately for Leman, the evidence belies his assertions ... That a large percentage of patients at both the Philadelphia and Cincinnati clinics drove for hours in large groups from eastern Kentucky and paid a higher cash price than local patients for prescription pain medications suggests that they were 'drug seekers' instead of legitimate patients."

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 prescription for themselves and sell the rest in places such as Pike and Floyd counties in eastern Kentucky.

Evidence and testimony at the trial showed that about 90 percent of patients who visited the Philadelphia and Cincinnati clinics were from eastern Kentucky. The clinics made a combined $1.2 million in cash over a 26-month period.

Witnesses, including former employees, testified about how little or no medical evaluation was done of patients before they 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 that 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. Former clinic CEO Stephen Lyon, 49, was released in January after serving 18 months in federal prison for money laundering conspiracy.

Former clinic nurse Tonia Snook pleaded guilty to drug distribution conspiracy and served a year and a day in federal prison.

Leman is serving his sentence in a federal prison in Forrest City, Arkansas.

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Follow Associated Press reporter Brett Barrouquere on Twitter: http://twitter.com/BBarrouquereAP

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