U.S. health-care fraud case hits close to home
Twenty-four people have been charged in Arkansas as part of the “largest healthcare fraud enforcement action in Department of Justice history,” according to a federal agency.
Half of those charged in Arkansas were members of Houston street gangs who were burglarizing pharmacies from Texas to Virginia, according to a news release from Patrick C. Harris, acting U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas.
The Feb. 25, 2016, burglary of the Health-Way pharmacy in Beebe led to the 12 people being charged in Arkansas.
“These gangs stole more than 120,000 Schedule II pills during these burglaries,” according to Harris.
Examples of Schedule II narcotics include morphine, opium, codeine, hydrocodone and oxycodone, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Nineteen of the 24 people charged in Arkansas have been arrested, said Chris Givens, assistant U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas.
Nationwide, 412 people were charged in the enforcement action by the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, which the Justice Department announced Thursday.
That number includes 115 doctors, nurses and other medical professionals who reportedly participated in health-care fraud schemes involving about $1.3 billion in false billings, according to a news release from the Justice Department.
“Of those charged, over 120 defendants, including doctors, were charged for their roles in prescribing and distributing opioids and other dangerous narcotics,” according to the release.
“Too many trusted medical professionals like doctors, nurses, and pharmacists have chosen to violate their oaths and put greed ahead of their patients,” said U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
“Amazingly, some have made their practices into multimillion-dollar criminal enterprises. They seem oblivious to the disastrous consequences of their greed. Their actions not only enrich themselves often at the expense of taxpayers, but also feed addictions and cause addictions to start. The consequences are real: emergency rooms, jail cells, futures lost and graveyards.”
In addition, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has initiated suspension actions against 295 providers, including doctors, nurses and pharmacists.
The Arkansas charges stem from three cases in the Eastern District.
The first Arkansas case involved the early morning burglary on Feb. 25, 2016, of the Health-Way pharmacy in Beebe.
On Dec. 7, the four suspects in the burglary were charged with conspiracy to break into a business registered with the DEA to dispense controlled substances. Those charged were Albert Ray Ferguson Jr., Thristian Davante Duplechin, Corry Wayne Cornett, and Cory Jermaine Lewis, all from Houston.
An ongoing investigation by the DEA Tactical Diversion Squad uncovered a network of people who were traveling between states to commit pharmacy burglaries, according to Harris. The investigation led to eight additional defendants being
charged with conspiracy to possess controlled substances with intent to distribute. All 12 people charged were members of Houston street gangs, according to a news release from Harris.
In another Arkansas case, a federal grand jury charged Erik Edson Turner of Flippin and two others with “conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute Schedule II controlled substances without an effective prescription,” according to the news release from Harris.
Beginning in 2015, Turner fabricated prescriptions to fraudulently obtain oxycodone 30 mg tablets from pharmacies, according to Harris.
Turner sold some of the oxycodone to Spencer Daniel King of Springdale, who eventually joined Turner in the conspiracy to obtain the drug by using fraudulent prescriptions, according to the release. In 2016, Michael Joseph “Joey” Carbonero of Springdale was recruited by Turner to assist in the scheme. Over the course of two years, Turner and others working on his behalf obtained thousands of oxycodone pills, according to Harris.
In the third case, the DEA uncovered a sophisticated prescription-forgery operation headed by Michael McClellan, 32, of North Little Rock, according to the release.
In this scheme, McClellan created fraudulent prescriptions using computer templates that either he or others then got filled at local pharmacies, according to the release.
The investigation into McClellan’s operation began after a break-in at McClellan’s home. When police arrived, they discovered drug paraphernalia and other “indicators of illegal activity,” according to Harris.
After obtaining search warrants, agents located drug ledgers in McClellan’s home that, coupled with the information from the computers, revealed the names of about 100 people whose identification was used to obtain fraudulent prescriptions, according to the release. Since the conspiracy began in 2012, more than 74,000 pills were obtained from the forged prescriptions, according to reports.
McClellan and the eight others were charged with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute Schedule II controlled substances.