• John Michael Gowder and James Heaton were supposed to go on trial Monday, April 8, but the trial has been delayed.
    John Michael Gowder and James Heaton were supposed to go on trial Monday, April 8, but the trial has been delayed.

State wants jury to hear other accusations against alleged Blairsville drug docs

    Gainesville, Ga. – With the trial of the former CEO of Union General Hospital and a prominent area doctor looming, their attorneys are trying to keep the jury from hearing sordid accusations about their past.
    John Michael Gowder and Dr. James Lanier Heaton face hundreds of counts of illegally distributing controlled substances in the scandal that rocked Union County in 2017. The trial was supposed to start Monday in federal court.
    A letter from U.S. Attorney B. Jay Pak recounts several additional allegations against the pair, including that Heaton was admonished for allegedly having sexual relationships with his patients and possibly traded drugs for sexual favors. The letter states the government intends to introduce previous investigations into their conduct as part of the trial.
    However, the attorneys for Gowder and Heaton filed motions on March 25 to bar the presentation of evidence that they claim is “outside the scope of the charged offenses in the indictment.” A conference call was held Friday, when Judge Richard Story ruled for the case to be removed from Monday’s calendar and delayed until the defense could properly investigate these claims.
    Pak’s letter said the Georgia Medical Board investigated Heaton for “having a sexual relationship with a married female patient, to whom he was prescribing controlled substances (Xanax) and who had become addicted to the pills.”
    The letter goes on to say that Heaton and the patient “exchanged photographs, including one of Dr. Heaton’s genitalia.” Heaton claims he no longer saw the woman as a patient when he began sexual involvement with her.
    Pak said the federal investigation revealed Heaton had sexual relationships with three other women to whom he also was prescribing pills “without a legitimate medical purpose and outside the usual course of professional conduct.” The letter says Heaton has denied having those relationships with the three women, who are named in the documents but are not accused of any crime here.
    The other serious accusation levied against Heaton in the court documents is that he allegedly provided testosterone to members of the Union County High School football team at various times before 2001.
    It also outlines an alleged conspiracy between Gowder and Heaton to use the purchase of his sleep lab business to help direct Medicare-billed services to the hospital.
    The motion claims state attorneys have had evidence in their possession of past claims against Heaton and Gowder for a while, but only recently disclosed their intentions to present that information at trial. Pak’s letter, listed in the court documents as “Exhibit A” that accompanied the motion, has been put under seal by Story.
    Gowder and Heaton are accused of distributing controlled substances to dozens of individuals in Cherokee County, N.C., as well as several other counties in Georgia.

The Cherokee Scout

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