U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Michigan Collects $68,224,759.35 in Civil and Criminal Actions for U.S. Taxpayers in Fiscal Year 2023.
A federal jury convicted Dr. Lawrence Mark Sherman, 74, of Shelby Township, on all counts of a 20-count indictment charging him with conspiracy to unlawfully distribute prescription opioids, including Oxycodone, Oxymorphone, and Oxycodone-Acetaminophen (Percocet), and 19 counts of illegal distribution of Oxycodone, U.S. Attorney Dawn N. Ison announced today.
Ison was joined in the announcement by Special Agent in Charge Cheyvorea Gibson, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Detroit Division, and Special Agent in Charge Mario Pinto of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General’s (HHS-OIG) Chicago Regional Office.
Dr. Sherman was convicted for his involvement in the operation of Tranquility Wellness Center, Inc., from March 2020 through June 2021, which operated first in Dearborn and later in Saint Clair Shores. Dr. Sherman was the only prescribing doctor who primarily prescribed Oxycodone 30mg, Oxymorphone 40mg, and Oxycodone-Acetaminophen 10-325 mg (Percocet), three of the most addictive prescription opioids. These prescription drugs are also among the most highly diverted prescription opioids due to their high street value. The other defendants charged in the case, including clinic operators Janeice Burrell and Angelo Smith, clinic employees Akeyla Bell and Carmen Gilbreth, and Peter Burrell previously pleaded guilty.
According to the evidence presented at trial, Dr. Sherman conspired with the other defendants to illegally authorize more than 3,000 opioid prescriptions for supposed “patients” who did not have a legitimate medical need for the drugs, and who were typically brought to the clinic by “patient recruiters/marketers.” Tranquility Wellness Center accepted only cash and charged patients, not based on the service provided, but instead based on the quantity, type, and dosage of prescription opioids that the “patient” received. The clinic also charged cash for the creation of fraudulent medical records for the supposed “patients.” Janeice Burrell and Angelo Smith paid Dr. Sherman in cash or via peer-to-peer money transfers, and only paid him if he wrote controlled substance prescriptions, not based on any supposed “medical care.” During the trial the jury heard testimony that Doctor Sherman issued more than 300,000 dosage units of Schedule II opioid prescriptions during the course of the conspiracy. These controlled substances had a street value in excess of $6.3 million.
While the unlawful controlled substance prescriptions were paid for in cash, both controlled and non-controlled “maintenance” medications were billed to health care benefit programs by pharmacies. Billings to the Medicare and Medicaid programs for medically unnecessary prescription drug medications and maintenance medications during this conspiracy exceeded $500,000.
“My office remains committed to doing what it can to hold doctors and other health care professionals accountable when they illegally feed the opioid epidemic by writing illegal opioid prescriptions, rather than helping to address the terrible impact the opioid epidemic has had on our community,” stated U.S. Attorney Ison. “We will pursue drug dealers whether they are peddling drugs on the street or while wearing white coats in a medical office.”
"Today's verdict should be a stern warning to any fraudulent medical providers who are willing to engage in illegal prescription drug and opioid distribution schemes," said Special Agent in Charge, Cheyvoryea Gibson of the FBI in Michigan. “By prescribing medically unnecessary medications, the defendant put vulnerable community members at risk and contributed to inflated health care costs. The FBI, along with our law enforcement partners, continue to work collaboratively to bring those to justice who seek to peddle poisons into our state and defraud healthcare systems.”
“Medical providers who facilitate the unlawful distribution of prescription controlled substances place their patients, and others, at risk of harm and also undermine the critical public health efforts underway to address the opioid epidemic,” said Special Agent in Charge Mario M. Pinto of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG). “HHS-OIG remains committed to working together with our law enforcement partners to identify and investigate those medical providers who unlawfully engage in overprescribing these medications.”
The maximum penalty for the drug conspiracy is twenty years’ imprisonment. The maximum penalty for the substantive counts of unlawful distribution of Schedule II controlled substances is 20 years on each count. The trial, which began on November 15, 2023, was conducted before United States District Judge Judith Levy. Sherman is scheduled to be sentenced on April 17, 2024.
The case was investigated by special agents and task force officers of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Health and Human Services-Office of the Inspector General and prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Andrew J. Lievense and Alison Furtaw.
The Eastern District of Michigan is one of the twelve districts included in the Opioid Fraud Abuse and Detection Unit, a Department of Justice initiative that uses data to target and prosecute individuals that are contributing to the nation’s opioid crisis.