Detroit Doc who gave painkillers to addicts faces sentence Prosecutors say physician has history of unethical conduct

By Ed White

Associated Press Writer

DETROIT (AP) -- Prosecutors are recommending 12 years in prison for a Detroit-area doctor who is blamed for the overdose deaths of at least three people and portrayed as a rogue physician discharged by the Air Force, dumped by hospitals and distrusted by his superiors.

Paul Emerson, 52, of Riverview is returning to federal court on Thursday, nearly two years after pleading guilty to illegally putting hundreds of thousands of prescription painkillers on the streets.

He pleaded guilty to causing the death of a patient, but the government says Emerson actually is responsible for the demise of at least two more people who died less than a month apart in 2005.

In a 25-page court filing, the U.S. attorney's office traces the career of a doctor who returned to Michigan in 2000 after a decade of trouble in Mississippi.

"The extent of the human toll and tragedy that has been (wrought) at the hands of this defendant is unfathomable," Assistant U.S. Attorney Ronald Waterstreet wrote.

Emerson's attorney, Randall Roberts, also filed a sentencing memo but it was sealed from public view. A message seeking comment was left Tuesday.

The government said Emerson worked with at least three people who recruited others to go to his clinic in Taylor for prescriptions. The drugs -- OxyContin, Methadose, Vicodin, Lorcet, Valium, Xanax and more -- were consumed or resold.

In July 2004, Steven Slone was given prescriptions for more than 300 doses of drugs and died three days later.

In December of that year, Emerson ignored the pleas of Michael Bally's mother and continued to prescribe powerful drugs to him, Waterstreet said. He died in January 2005, just weeks before the fatal overdose of a third patient, Margaret Burden.

"He is an evil man," Burden's mother, Susan Burden, said in a letter to U.S. District Judge Victoria Roberts. "Whatever punishment he gets will not be enough. ... Without him, no drugs."

The U.S. attorney's office said Emerson's actions were consistent with years of "inappropriate and illegal conduct" long before the painkiller scheme.

According to the government, Emerson, while an intern at a Detroit-area hospital in 1989-90, did a pelvic exam on a 14-year-old girl who had asthma symptoms.

"The child was traumatized as a result of the examination and cried for two days," Waterstreet wrote.

Emerson didn't recognize a problem with what he did, the prosecutor said, and was placed under the close scrutiny of a supervisor, Dr. Arthur Bouier.

"Bouier went on to state that several of the female patients refused to be seen by Emerson because they thought he was 'weird,'" Waterstreet said in a recent court filing.

Emerson's next stop was an Air Force hospital in Columbus, Miss, where the government said he was repeatedly accused of fondling female patients. Faced with a possible court martial, he quit in 1992 after violating orders to examine female patients only in the presence of a third party.

In 1996, H.C. Watkins Memorial Hospital in Quitman, Miss., terminated Emerson's hospital privileges due to unprofessional conduct. He subsequently worked for the Mississippi Department of Corrections but that ended with a $75,000 settlement in a lawsuit accusing Emerson of sexual harassment, Waterstreet said.

Emerson's sentencing guidelines actually are as high as 33 years in prison, but the government is recommending 12 because of his "substantial assistance" in prosecuting co-defendants involved in dealing painkillers.

Published: Thu, Oct 21, 2010