Friday, May 31, 2019

Mandeville, Louisiana Neurologist Pleads Guilty for Role in Scheme to Unlawfully Dispense Controlled Substances and to Commit Health Care Fraud

A neurologist from Mandeville, Louisiana, pleaded guilty today for his role in a scheme to unlawfully prescribe controlled substances, namely oxycodone and hydrocodone, without performing required face-to-face examinations, and his role in a scheme to commit health care fraud.   

Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Peter G. Strasser of the Eastern District of Louisiana, Special Agent in Charge Eric J. Rommal of the FBI’s New Orleans Field Office and Special Agent in Charge C.J. Porter of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General’s (HHS-OIG) Dallas Regional Office made the announcement.

Anil Prasad, M.D., 62, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Jane Triche Milazzo of the Eastern District of Louisiana to one count of conspiracy to unlawfully distribute and dispense controlled substances and one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud.  Sentencing is set for Sept. 4, 2019, before Judge Milazzo.

In pleading guilty, Prasad admitted that he conspired with others to unlawfully distribute and dispense controlled substances at a medical clinic that was, in actuality, a pill mill.  Prasad admitted that he rarely performed face-to-face examinations of patients at the clinic to determine whether any medical necessity existed for the controlled substances that he dispensed to them.  Instead, Prasad admitted he pre-signed prescriptions for controlled substances for patients.  Those patients then picked up the prescriptions from the clinic after making a cash payment to the clinic. Prasad also admitted that he pre-signed prescriptions before traveling internationally, and that patients would pick up those prescriptions while he was out of the country.  Further, Prasad admitted that he knew certain patients who received the pre-signed prescriptions used their Medicare and Medicaid benefits to fill the prescriptions at area pharmacies.  In total, Medicare and Medicaid paid approximately $1,657,461.15 for those prescriptions, Prasad admitted.

This case was investigated by the FBI, HHS-OIG, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the Louisiana Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit and was brought as part of the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, supervised by the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Louisiana.  Trial Attorney Jared Hasten of the Fraud Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Sharan Lieberman of the Eastern District of Lousiana are prosecuting the case.

The Medicare Fraud Strike Force is part of a joint initiative between the Department of Justice and HHS to focus their efforts to prevent and deter fraud and enforce current anti-fraud laws around the country.  Since its inception in March 2007, the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, which maintains 14 strike forces operating in 23 districts, has charged nearly 4,000 defendants who have collectively billed the Medicare program for more than $14 billion.  In addition, the HHS Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, working in conjunction with HHS-OIG, are taking steps to increase accountability and decrease the presence of fraudulent providers.

Two Former New England Compounding Center Pharmacists Sentenced

BOSTON – Two former clean room pharmacists at New England Compounding Center (NECC) were sentenced this week in federal court in Boston in connection with the 2012 nationwide fungal meningitis outbreak.

Gene Svirskiy, 38, of Ashland, Mass., was sentenced yesterday by U.S. District Court Judge Richard G. Stearns to 30 months in prison and one year of supervised release. Christopher Leary, 34, of Shrewsbury, Mass., was sentenced today by Judge Stearns to two years of probation, of which the first eight months will be in home confinement with electronic monitoring, and 100 hours of community service.

In December 2018, Svirskiy and Leary were convicted with three other NECC co-defendants following an 8-week trial. Svirskiy, a supervising pharmacist at NECC, was convicted of racketeering, racketeering conspiracy, 10 counts of mail fraud, and two counts of introduction of adulterated drugs into interstate commerce with intent to defraud or mislead.  Leary was convicted of three counts of mail fraud, one count of introduction of adulterated drugs into interstate commerce with intent to defraud or mislead, and two counts of introduction of misbranded drugs into interstate commerce. 

In the fall of 2012, more than 793 patients in 20 states were diagnosed with fungal infections after receiving injections of preservative-free methylprednisolone acetate (MPA) manufactured by NECC. Of those 793 patients, more than 100 patients have now died. The fungal meningitis outbreak was the largest public health crisis ever caused by a pharmaceutical drug.

The criminal investigation revealed that in addition to the contaminated MPA, NECC’s clean room pharmacists, including Svirskiy and Leary, knowingly manufactured and sold hundreds of other substandard drugs that were made in an unsafe manner and in insanitary conditions. The evidence presented at trial demonstrated that NECC’s pharmacists, including Svirskiy and Leary, failed to properly sterilize and test NECC’s drugs and failed to wait for test results before sending the drugs to customers. Svirskiy and Leary approved the use of expired drug ingredients, and the mislabeling of drugs in order to deceive customers. Svirskiy also supervised a pharmacy technician whose license had been revoked. To conceal the technician’s presence inside the clean room, Svirskiy directed the technician to fraudulently complete paperwork without his name appearing and to physically leave the clean room and hide in the warehouse when regulators would inspect the facility.

The insanitary conditions at NECC included, among other things, a lack of proper cleaning, fraudulently completed cleaning logs, and positive environmental monitoring hits for mold and bacteria inside NECC’s cleanrooms throughout 2012. Specifically, NECC recorded alert or action-level environmental monitoring hits for mold and bacteria during thirty-seven out of thirty-eight weeks prior to the shutdown in 2012. Despite these repeated action-level environmental monitoring hits and the presence of fungal blooms inside the clean room, neither Svirskiy, nor Leary, nor anyone else at NECC took any remedial action to eliminate the mold and bacterial contamination, or stop the drug production.

In June 2017, Barry Cadden, the former owner and head pharmacist for NECC, was sentenced to nine years in prison and three years of supervised release after being convicted of 57 counts. In January 2018, Glenn Chin, NECC’s former supervisory pharmacist, was sentenced to eight years in prison and two years of supervised release after being convicted of 77 counts.  In total, 13 NECC defendants have been convicted of 178 charges.

United States Attorney Andrew E. Lelling; FDA Acting Commissioner Norman E. Sharpless, M.D.; Joseph R. Bonavolonta, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Boston Field Division; Leigh-Alistair Barzey, Special Agent in Charge, Defense Criminal Investigative Service, Northeast Field Office; Sean Smith, Special Agent in Charge of the Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General, Criminal Investigations Division; and Joseph W. Cronin, Inspector in Charge of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, Boston Division made the announcement today. Chief Amanda P.M. Strachan of Lelling’s Health Care Fraud Unit and Assistant U.S. Attorney George P. Varghese prosecuted the case.

Five More Individuals Indicted by Federal Grand Jury for Suspected Felony Lane Gang-Type Criminal Activity in Baton Rouge and Across Louisiana

United States Attorney Brandon J. Fremin announced today the recent unsealing of a federal grand jury indictment charging five defendants with conspiracy to commit bank fraud, bank fraud, and conspiracy to commit access device fraud.  The indictment is the latest set of charges in a lengthy federal investigation that has spanned numerous jurisdictions across several states and has resulted in charges against ten (10) different individuals for participating in a fraudulent scheme targeting victims in the Middle District of Louisiana.

According to the indictment, which was filed under seal in December 2018 and recently unsealed by the court, the defendants allegedly engaged in an extensive criminal scheme to break into unattended vehicles, steal the victims’ licenses, checkbooks, and credit and debit cards, and then use the stolen items to conduct fraudulent financial transactions at the victims’ banks.  The defendants charged in this indictment began targeting victims in Louisiana in August of 2016 and continued to engage in criminal conduct in Louisiana (among other states) through February of 2017.  The latest indictment includes charges against the following individuals:

    Michael D. Gibbs, a/k/a “BG,” age 26, of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, is charged with conspiracy to commit bank fraud, bank fraud, and conspiracy to commit access device fraud.

    Brandon J. Gassett, a/k/a “Boot Daddy” and “Twan,” age 28, of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, is charged with conspiracy to commit bank fraud, bank fraud, and conspiracy to commit access device fraud.

    Raymond B. Mathews, a/k/a “Boot” and “Bo,” age 33, of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, is charged with conspiracy to commit bank fraud and bank fraud.

    Geoffrey D. Green, a/k/a “Deep” and “D,” age 35, Lauderhill, Florida, is charged with conspiracy to commit bank fraud, bank fraud, and conspiracy to commit access device fraud.

    Frank Jackson, age 25, of Lauderdale Lakes, Florida, is charged with conspiracy to commit bank fraud and bank fraud.

Five additional individuals have already been convicted and sentenced to federal prison for their roles in this criminal scheme.  Erin Brown, age 23, of Newport, Tennessee, Natasha Hammett, age 29, of Opa-Locka, Florida, and Tina Eggleston, age 48, originally from San Fernando, California, have each been convicted of conspiracy to commit bank fraud.  Johnny Jones, age 32, of Fort Lauderhill, Florida, and Allen Clark, age 30, of Margate, Florida, have each been convicted of conspiracy to commit bank fraud and possession of unauthorized access devices.

U.S. Attorney Brandon J. Fremin stated, “Unfortunately, criminals these days know no borders.  This indictment illustrates that criminals are willing to travel far and wide to defraud innocent victims.  This indictment and prior related bills of information against a total of ten members of a group who were working together to victimize citizens here in our community sends a very clear message – we are not open for your type of business.  We will continue to work with federal, state, and local law enforcement, throughout the country, to find organized criminals like these and bring them to justice in order to protect our citizens.  I want to thank our prosecutors, and all of the numerous law enforcement agencies and officers around the country, who have worked tirelessly to bring these fraudsters to justice.”

Eric J. Rommal, FBI New Orleans Field Office Special Agent in Charge, stated, “The FBI New Orleans Field Office will vigorously investigate all forms of financial crimes regardless of the subjects' background, financial status or relation to the victims.”

This matter is being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office, the Baton Rouge Police Department, the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office, Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office, Walker Police Department, Lafayette Police Department, Covington Police Department, Oxford (Mississippi) Police Department, Florida Highway Patrol and Asheville (North Carolina) Police Department.  The investigation has received substantial assistance from the 19th JDC District Attorney’s Office in East Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the Johnson County, Wyoming Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, and the Third Judicial Circuit of Florida State Attorney’s Office.  This matter is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Alan Stevens and Chris Dippel, who both serve as Deputy Criminal Chiefs, and former AUSA Cal Leipold.

NOTE: An indictment is an accusation by a grand jury.  The defendants are presumed innocent until and unless adjudicated guilty at trial or through a guilty plea.