Michigan doctor sentenced to 12 years for distributing opioid pills worth more than $6M

DETROIT — A Michigan doctor was sentenced to over a decade in federal prison for unlawfully distributing hundreds of thousands of opioid pills that had a street value of more than $6 million, federal prosecutors said.

U.S. District Judge Judith Levy sentenced Lawrence Mark Sherman, 75, to 12 years in federal prison Thursday after a jury found him guilty of 20 charges in December, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Eastern District of Michigan and federal court records. Prosecutors said Sherman illegally distributed more than 270,000 opioid pills worth more than $6.3 million.

In the release, the pills included three of the most addictive prescription opioids, including Oxycodone, Oxymorphone, and Percocet, which also have a high street value. The charges stemmed from Sherman’s involvement in the operation of Tranquility Wellness Center Inc., from the spring of 2020 through June 2021, where he worked part-time.

The center first operated in Dearborn, Michigan, and later in St. Clair Shores, Michigan, according to the release, where prosecutors said Sherman unlawfully prescribed the drugs.

‘Drug dealer via prescriptions’

Federal agents executed search and arrest warrants against Sherman and the center in June 2021, with four others connected to the clinic charged. The other defendants pleaded guilty and were sentenced, according to the release.

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, evidence during the trial showed that 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 brought to the center by “patient recruiter/marketers.”

Prosecutors said the center only accepted cash and charged “patients” on the quantity, type, and dosage of prescription opioids they received. It also created fraudulent medical records for the “patients.”

The jury also heard evidence and testimony that Sherman issued more than 270,000 dosage units of Schedule II opioid prescriptions, which had a street value of more than $6.3 million, according to the release.

While the unlawful controlled substance prescriptions were paid for in cash, prosecutors said that controlled and noncontrolled “maintenance” medications were billed to health care benefit programs by pharmacies. Billings to Medicare and Medicaid programs for medically unnecessary prescription drug medications and maintenance medications during the conspiracy exceeded $500,000.

Prosecutors believe Sherman received nearly $168,000 in proceeds from his role in the conspiracy, per their sentencing memorandum filed with the court, which stated Sherman “did not practice actual medicine at Tranquility. He was a drug dealer via prescriptions.”

Before Sherman began a part-time job at Tranquility, he worked as the medical director at the Macomb County Jail in 2014-17, according to the sentencing memorandum. It also states he and his wife, a retired nurse, own a home in Michigan; a $650,000 second home in Florida; a retirement account with almost $1 million, and have a net worth of more than $1.1 million.

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U.S. opioid epidemic

RAND study published in February found that more than 40% of Americans know someone who has died of a drug overdose. RAND reported that more than 109,000 people in the country died from drug overdoses in 2022 and more than 1.1 million have died since 2000.

According to the State Health Access Data Assistance Center, a majority of drug overdose deaths involve opioids, including heroin and prescription painkillers. But in recent years, synthetic opioids such as fentanyl have become more widespread in drug overdose cases.

Fentanyl can be up to 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. Recent cases of fentanyl-related overdose are typically tied to illegally made fentanyl.

“It is a major contributor to fatal and nonfatal overdoses in the U.S.,” according to the CDC. “Over 150 people die every day from overdoses related to synthetic opioids like fentanyl.”

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency reported that more than 17.9 million fentanyl pills have been seized already in 2024. In 2023, the agency seized more than 78.4 million fentanyl-laced pills and nearly 12,000 pounds of fentanyl powder, which represent more than 376.7 million lethal doses of fentanyl.

‘Against the oath he took as a doctor’

Prosecutors recommended more than 16 years in prison. They stated Sherman “traded his medical license for the easy money that came with illegally injecting about 270,000 highly addictive prescription opioid pills into the community he was supposed to serve,” according to their sentencing memorandum.

It stated he did a “short, cookie-cutter office visit with each “patient” during their first visit, for which Sherman was paid $100, if he prescribed the “patient” an opioid — and he was not paid if he did not prescribe an opioid, even though he had done the “visit,” according to the memorandum.

After that, Sherman electronically issued additional, monthly opioid prescriptions in the names of “patients” as requested and paid for by the “patient” or recruiter, it states, without interacting with the “patient” or checking any drug urine screens.

Sherman’s attorney, Summer McKeivier, wrote in a sentencing memorandum that Sherman, who was listed as age 74, spent decades of his life devoted to treating traditionally underserved communities and made contributions to medicine. That memorandum requested that a sentence of three years in custody was sufficient, but not greater than necessary.

“Although Dr. Sherman challenges the jury’s verdicts, he does not question the seriousness of the offenses,” McKeivier wrote in the memorandum. “Dr. Sherman entered medical school nearly fifty years ago. Since then, he has witnessed the pitfalls of the medical system and worked to redress those issues while also treating the patients and follow his duty to ‘do no harm.’ Dr. Sherman has immense knowledge of the horrors caused by the opiate epidemic and understands the seriousness of the matter.”

Sherman’s DEA registration will be revoked as a result of his convictions, McKeivier wrote, and he will not be allowed to prescribe controlled substances.

If the court imposed prison, Sherman requested the Bureau of Prisons designate him to the FCC Coleman Camp, a low-security institution in Florida, to place him close to home and which provides the vocational and rehabilitative programs in which he would like to participate, according to his sentencing memorandum.

McKeivier could not be immediately reached Friday.

U.S. Attorney Dawn Ison said in her office’s release that health care professionals “have both an opportunity and a duty to help address the terrible impact the opioid epidemic has had on our community, but Dr. Sherman chose to only make it worse.”

Cheyvoryea Gibson, special agent in charge of the FBI in Michigan, agreed, saying Sherman’s actions “endangered countless lives, which goes against the oath he took as a doctor.”

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