Oak Bluffs doc arrested in West Coast drug case
A team of Island police officers arrested Dr. Gerald C. Morris at his office in the Martha's Vineyard Hospital Tuesday, on a fugitive from justice warrant issued by the Ventura County, California Sheriff's Department.
Dr. Morris, 35, is wanted in California on three felony charges of conspiracy to commit a crime; sale and possession of a controlled substance; and unlawfully prescribing a controlled substance. The California warrant was issued on Aug. 22, according to a spokesperson for the Ventura County Sheriff's Department.
Captain Ron Nelson of the Ventura County Sheriff's office said he could not provide details on the case now, while the investigation remains quite active and widespread.
Dr. Gerald C. Morris was arraigned in Edgartown District Court Wednesday afternoon. Photo by Ralph Stewart
Dr. Morris, a family practitioner and internist, was held overnight in the Dukes County Jail. He was released on $750 cash bail following his arraignment Wednesday before district clerk magistrate Liza Williamson in Edgartown District Court.
Dr. Morris is due back in court today for a bail review hearing before Judge Donald Carpenter, at which time his lawyer may indicate whether he will fight his extradition to California.
Tisbury police detective Mark Santon, accompanied by State Police Sergeant Jeff Stone and Oak Bluffs Detective Nicholas Curelli, arrested Dr. Morris at approximately 3:30 pm Tuesday.
According to Detective Santon, the charges stem from an Internet drug sale scheme that is national and international in scope and involves money laundering, identity theft, and the sale of prescription drugs. He said arrests have already been made in Miami, Cleveland, Colorado and California connected to the case.
The exact extent of Dr. Morris's alleged involvement was not revealed in court.
Dr. Morris, dressed in a pair of light blue pants resembling scrubs and wearing shackles around his wrists and ankles, stood silently throughout his arraignment proceedings yesterday afternoon.
The arraignment was postponed from the morning so that Dr. Morris's lawyer, David Lawler of Hyannis, would have time to arrive.
Detective Santon testified that police arrested Dr. Morris in his office Tuesday after receiving a warrant from Ventura County.
Reading from the warrant received by Tisbury Police, Detective Santon told the court that Dr. Morris and a number of other individuals were accused of using their status as doctors and their assigned Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) numbers to approve prescriptions online. DEA numbers are given to people and organizations that are certified to handle controlled substances under the Controlled Substances Act.
Detective Santon said money laundering, identity theft, and drug diversion were also involved.
According to the detective, Dr. Morris received $3 each time he clicked the "OK" button online for a prescription. He was expecting to receive a total of $50,000, but had only received $20,000 of that total, the detective said.
Magistrate Williamson said she had two concerns about the case in determining the amount of bail. The first was determining who had jurisdiction because Dr. Morris's practice is based on Martha's Vineyard. She also questioned the evidence used to determine that it was Dr. Morris who actually approved the prescriptions online, and not someone who was simply using his DEA number and identity information.
Mr. Lawler described his client as a family man with many Island ties. He said that he should not be considered a flight risk. He requested that his client be released on personal recognizance or a maximum of $500 cash bail.
Ms. Williamson agreed that Mr. Morris did not present a flight risk and set bail at $750 cash. After making bail, Dr. Morris was ordered to return to court this morning at 9 am before Judge Carpenter.
Following the arraignment, Mr. Lawler told a Times reporter he had no comment.
Dr. Morris, a 1997 graduate of Dartmouth Medical School, is board certified in family practice and internal medicine.
He joined the Martha's Vineyard Hospital staff in June 2004. Following a provisional period, he was granted full active status in March.
Hospital officials reacted with surprise to news of the arrest. "We are only learning the details, but we are very concerned," said Tim Walsh, hospital chief executive officer.
Mr. Walsh said all doctors are subject to a thorough background check that includes medical credentials and any criminal history. "It is part of the standard procedure," he said.
Every two years doctors are also subject to a recredentialing process that is more clinical in scope, said Dedie Wieler, chief quality officer at the hospital.
At the moment, Mr. Walsh said his primary concern is to fill the gap created in patient coverage.
Dr. Morris's arrest and possible extradition may also affect Island Health Care, a rural health clinic located at the Triangle in Edgartown that provides health care services for low-income and uninsured Islanders.
Dr. Morris was the clinic's supervising physician. Although his role is primarily supervisory, and he only works in the office four hours a week, state regulations require physician oversight.
Cynthia Mitchell, executive director, said the clinic is making arrangements for physician backup. She said the hospital and Dr. Michael Jacobs, who operates the Vineyard Medical Services clinic, have both graciously offered to assist the clinic.
"We have very little information at this point and so must refrain from comment, but of course we are very concerned," said Ms. Mitchell.