A former Claremore orthopedic surgeon was sentenced Wednesday to five months in federal prison and eight months of home confinement for his part in a hydrocodone pill-sharing scheme.
But Chief U.S. District Judge John Dowdell acknowledged Wednesday when he sentenced Jeremy David Thomas that the 43-year-old likely will not serve any time in the federal Bureau of Prisons.
Dowdell said Thomas likely will complete his sentence in the Creek County Detention Center, where he has been held since pleading guilty Nov. 26 to drug conspiracy and illegal hydrocodone distribution charges.
Prosecutors had hoped Thomas would receive a prison term as high as 14 times more than what he received.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Joel-lyn McCormick asked the judge to sentence Thomas to a prison term at the high end of a 57-month to 71-month sentencing range, based on sentencing guidelines that took into consideration the nearly 14,000 hydrocodone pills that Thomas prescribed to five others implicated in the scheme.
McCormick said Thomas was “just like any other drug dealer” who appears before this court, calling him “one of the gatekeepers at the helm of this opioid crisis.”
Prosecutors also claimed that Thomas was “undoubtedly under the influence of hydrocodone” when he performed medical procedures during the two-year period he admitted to participating in the pill-sharing scheme. Prosecutors estimate that Thomas performed about 850 major surgeries while working for Hillcrest Healthcare System during a time period when he admitted to abusing hydrocodone.
In all, investigators believe that Thomas performed about 2,500 medical procedures while abusing hydrocodone.
Government investigators say they have interviewed “numerous” patients who were injured due to botched medical procedures performed by Thomas.
Since the grand jury indictments were unsealed naming Thomas, 13 former patients have filed medical negligence lawsuits against the physician in Rogers County District Court, court records show.
U.S. Attorney Trent Shores, in a statement, compared Thomas’ actions to those of a drug dealer “like any other whose business it was to peddle opioids and addiction in our community.”
“But unlike a typical drug dealer, he also performed surgeries on patients,” Shores said. “Moreover, he was under the influence during those surgeries.”
But Dowdell turned away the government’s argument, noting Thomas’ “immediate acceptance of responsibility” when confronted by investigators and his lack of criminal history.
Unlike other drug distribution cases, this case “did not cause the same societal harm” typically found in those conspiracies, Dowdell said.
Rather, the judge accepted a request from Thomas that he be sentenced to a prison term nearly equal to the time he had already served in jail.
Thomas’ attorney, Robert Wyatt, said his client was a changed man since investigators visited the doctor in his office to question him about sharing pills.
Thomas has since received both in-patient and out-patient treatment for drug addiction, Wyatt said.
“He is different,” Wyatt said. “He has learned something here.”
Wyatt also referenced letters sent to the judge by co-workers who said they never saw Thomas working while impaired.
Federal and state officials launched an investigation of Thomas in October 2017 after a patient of his contacted the Rogers County District Attorney’s Office to tell them that the doctor and another patient were sharing opioid pills.
A grand jury named Thomas in five indictments filed in June.
Each indictment included another individual who prosecutors claimed conspired with Thomas to share hydrocodone. The doctor would prescribe the pills to that patient or the patient’s spouse during a two-year period ending around October 2017.
The pill exchanges took place at convenience stores, in the parking lot of his Claremore office and at an Owasso golf course where the doctor played, according to prosecutors.
Investigators estimated that Thomas prescribed nearly 14,000 hydrocodone pills over the two-year period to five people who were alleged co-conspirators.
Four of the five co-defendants with Thomas have since pleaded guilty to misdemeanor illegal possession of hydrocodone. Three of the four have since been sentenced to one year of probation, while the fourth awaits sentencing.
Prosecutors dropped the charges against one of the five co-defendants.