Pharmacist sentenced to 17 years for health care fraud, drug offenses

A 50-year-old Canton pharmacist who owned and operated 26 pharmacies in the metro-Detroit area was sentenced Feb. 1 to 17 years in prison, announced. "Taxpayers fund Medicare and Medicaid to provide health care to needy Americans," said U.S. Attorney Barbara L. McQuade. "It is gratifying to see courts impose strong sentences on defendants who exploit these programs for personal gain." U.S. District Judge Arthur J. Tarnow sentenced Babubhai ''Bob'' Patel on 26 convictions for a health care fraud conspiracy, a drug conspiracy, and related fraud and drug violations. Evidence presented at a six-week jury trial concluding in August showed that between 2006 and 2011, the pharmacies billed Medicare and Medicaid more than $57 million. At least 25 percent of those billings were for drugs that were either medically unnecessary never dispensed. Additional amounts were fraudulently billed to private insurers such as Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. The pharmacies operated on a business model that paid kickbacks to physicians in exchange for writing prescriptions for expensive medications. The affiliated doctors would also write prescriptions for controlled substances, without regard to medical necessity, which would be filled at the pharmacies and distributed to paid ''patients'' and patient recruiters. The expensive non-controlled medications would be billed but not dispensed. Of the 26 defendants charged in the original indictment in this case, 20 defendants have either pleaded guilty or been convicted at trial. Six defendants are scheduled for trial in June. Out of 12 pharmacists charged, 11 have been convicted at trial or pleaded guilty, with one waiting to be tried. Also last week, Judge Tarnow sentenced several of the other pharmacists who were convicted at trial. Brijesh Rawal, 36, of Canton; Ashwini Sharma, 34, of Novi; and Lokesh Tayal, 36, of Northville, were each sentenced to terms of imprisonment of 68 months for their participation as pharmacists in these criminal offenses. These three pharmacists were non-U.S. citizens who entered the United States under a visa program for certain skilled workers, and each will be deported upon completion of their sentences. Rawal is Canadian, while Sharma and Tayal are citizens of India. In addition to the prison sentence, Patel was ordered to pay restitution to the Medicaid and Medicare programs in the amount of $17.3 million, and $1.5 million to Blue Cross Blue Shield. Published: Thu, Feb 7, 2013

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