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Indian-American jailed for 17 years for healthcare fraud

February 03, 2013 12:04 IST

An Indian-American pharmacist has been sentenced to 17 years in prison by a United States court for a healthcare fraud worth millions.

Babubhai (Bob) Patel, 50, who owned and operated 26 pharmacies across metro Detroit, was sentenced in Michigan court, five months after a jury convicted him of billing the government for more than USD 57 million for painkillers that were medically unnecessary or never provided.

The government said he paid doctors to write the orders and had recruiters offer cash to poor people in exchange for their Medicare or Medicaid number.

He was arrested on August 2, 2011.

In addition to 17 years of imprisonment, the court also ordered Patel to pay restitution to the Medicaid and Medicare programs in the amount of USD 17.3 million, and restitution to Blue Cross Blue Shield in the amount of USD 1.5 million.

In sentencing the defendant, the court told the defendant that "what you have done is reprehensible."

The criminal conduct engaged in by other health care fraud violators sentenced by the court was "small scale compared to this."

According to evidence presented during a six-week jury trial concluding in August 2012, Patel between 2006 and 2011, billed Medicare and Medicaid more than USD 57 million.

At least 25 per cent 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 Justice Department said.

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.

Earlier this week, the US court sentenced an Indian Canadian (Brijesh Rawal) and two Indian nationals -- Ashwini Sharma and Lokesh Tayal -- to 68 months of imprisonment for their participation as pharmacists in these criminal offenses.

They will be deported to their country of their citizenship upon the completion of their sentences.

Lalit K Jha in Washington
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