Doctor Accused of Trading Opioids for Sex with Women Gets Prison in Tennessee, Feds Say
A 51-year-old emergency room doctor in Tennessee accused of trading opioids for sexual favors was sentenced to two years in federal prison on Thursday.
Lawrence J. Valdez pleaded guilty to one count of unlawfully distributing controlled substances last year, according to court filings.
Valdez worked as an emergency medical doctor in Hendersonville, just outside Nashville, when federal prosecutors in the Middle District of Tennessee indicted him on charges of unlawful distribution in April 2019. He was one of nine medical professionals caught up in an investigation by a joint task force known as the Appalachian Regional Prescription Opioid Strike Force.
According to prosecutors, Valdez began handing out opioids to patients in June 2016 “without a legitimate medical purpose and outside the course of professional practice.”
Between June 2016 and February 2017, Valdez is accused of distributing oxycodone and oxymorphone to four women on at least 16 different occasions, often “in exchange for sexual intercourse and other sexual acts with those patients,” prosecutors said in a news release Thursda
Oxycodone and oxymorphone are highly addictive narcotics used to treat moderate to severe pain.
Prosecutors indicted Valdez on 18 counts of unlawful distribution and arrested him in April 2019. He was released on bond and ultimately pleaded guilty in November 2019 to one of the charges, court filings show.
Valdez’s medical license was set to expire on Nov. 30, according to the Tennessee Department of Health. Public records show he opted to voluntarily surrender his license effective March 25 and paid a $2,000 civil penalty.
Prosecutors had pushed for a prison sentence of 37 months, or more than three years, according to court documents filed in August.
They said the women he gave the narcotics to “could not be considered, in any meaningful way, to be the defendant’s ‘patients’ as he never developed a doctor-patient relationship with them before or after prescribing controlled substances to them.”
Valdez reportedly met one of the women after responding to a Facebook post in which she claimed to be looking for a “sugar daddy,” prosecutors said. The woman died from an opioid overdose in 2018.
“The defendant’s ‘relationships’ with these individuals were better termed ‘prostitute-client’ than ‘doctor-patient,’ wherein the modes of exchange were controlled substances,” court filings state.
Prosecutors said he should have known better — both as a licensed physician and as a former reserve police officer with the Gallatin Police Department in Tennessee, where he was a SWAT medic.
Valdez’s sentencing request was filed under seal, but letters of support requesting leniency from his teenage children, ex-wife, friends and former colleagues — most of whom refer to him as “Joe” — described the former doctor as “honorable,” hard-working, trustworthy and a family man.
“Joe has not tried to hide from his actions,” one friend wrote. “Each time the news media has announced his indictment, the federal indictment, the guilty plea, Joe has accepted this publicity as a part of the punishment. To be sure, the punishment continues. To his credit, he has focused all of his attention upon his two sons. His sons love their father, and Joe loves them.”
Both of Valdez’s children and his ex-wife, who filed for divorce after he was arrested, cited the emotional trauma the case has had on their family.
“I have seen Joe want to be a good man and move forward from these events in his life,” his ex-wife wrote. “He has taken extreme ownership for his actions. I do not believe incarceration would be beneficial for Joe, the boys or the community as a whole.”
One of his sons said Valdez is “the most honorable and trustworthy person I have ever met.”
“I have witnessed other kids who have struggled with distrustful parents, but that is not my dad,” he wrote. “Despite this situation, he is a great man and I hope and pray that you are lenient so that me and my brother can continue to have our father.”
U.S. District Judge Eli J. Richardson consented Thursday to a lesser sentence than what prosecutors sought, giving Valdez two years in prison with three years of supervised release.