Attorney: Nurse used doctor's signature for illegal prescriptions

GULFPORT -- A nurse accused of using a Biloxi doctor's signature on narcotic prescriptions was doing so long before the period covered in a recent federal indictment, a court document said.

That and other details on allegations against Sherrie Box Bennett, 56, of Vancleave, came out in a prosecutor's motion that claimed it's a conflict of interest for Bennett and her husband, Jerry Dean Bennett, 58, to be represented by a single attorney in their upcoming trial.

Sherrie Bennett was writing illegal prescriptions for herself, her husband and numerous relatives as early as 2006, while she worked for Dr. Laurence Lines in Biloxi, Assistant U.S. Attorney John Meynardie wrote in a motion asking that the couple's attorney be disqualified.

Sherrie Bennett "is considerably more culpable" than her husband because of her job, Meynardie wrote, adding cross-examination at trial by their attorney could pose a conflict of interest. Sharing an attorney also could be used to appeal the case on a claim of ineffectual counsel, he said.

The Bennetts waived the right to separate attorneys after a grand jury charged each of them with 11 drug-distribution counts in an indictment filed Aug. 4. The indictment alleges they dispensed and distributed prescription drugs outside the scope of professional practice in Harrison County and elsewhere from sometime in 2010 through May 2013.

The drugs in question are the painkillers oxycodone, oxymorphone and hydrocodone, and an anti-anxiety medication, alprazolam.

Lines was a standing physician at Cedar Lake Oncology Center, and Sherrie Bennett and her family members were not patients of Lines or the clinic, Meynardie said.

Meynardie said he and the couple's attorney had been working on plea negotiations but the Bennetts have decided they want a trial.

U.S. District Judge Sul Ozerden signed an order Feb. 4 asking Calvin Taylor to step down as the couple's attorney.

"There is an actual conflict, or at least a serious potential for conflict," Ozerden wrote in his order.

Hearings are pending to appoint public defenders or confirm new attorneys for the husband and wife.

The case is set for trial on a court calendar that starts Feb. 29. The trial has been postponed twice already. New attorneys could ask for a later trial date to have time to prepare their defenses.

The Bennetts have remained free on unsecured bonds of $25,000.

They each face one count of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute a controlled substance and 10 counts each of possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance.