U.S. health-care fraud case hits close to home

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NORTHWEST ARKANSAS - BILL BOW­DEN

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.

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