Ten doctors, two pharmacy execs indicted in North Texas prescription bribery scheme

Ten doctors, two pharmaceutical executives and two businesses have been indicted in a scheme to bribe doctors for prescriptions, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas Leigha Simonton said in a news release.

Medical doctors Robert Leisten, Amy Haase, Arnold Farbstein, Barry Weinstein, Eric Berkman, Jorge Cuz, Katherine McCarty, James Ellis and David Wolf; executives Amir Mortazavi and Arvin Zeinali; and management service organizations Trinity Champion Healthcare Partners LLC and Hexamed Business Solutions LLC were all charged with conspiracy to violate the Travel Act by violating the Texas Commercial Bribery Statute and conspiracy to deny patients their right to honest services. They were also charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering.

Dr. Walter Strash was also charged with conspiracy to violate the Travel Act by violating the Texas Commercial Bribery Statute and conspiracy to deny patients their right to honest services, according to the release.

The Travel Act prohibits travel or the use of facilities of interstate or foreign commerce for the purpose of furthering an ‘unlawful activity’,” according to the U.S. Department of Justice. The law is used to prosecute businesses involved in crimes related to narcotics or controlled substances.

Commercial bribery occurs when a person, typically an employee, without consent of the beneficiary, intentionally accepts or agrees to accept any benefit from another person on the understanding that the benefit will influence the conduct between the two, according to the law.

“Our community trusts doctors to write prescriptions that serve their patients’ best interest. Kickbacks and bribes cloud physicians’ judgment,” Simonton said in the release.

Today's top stories:

USPS workers demand prosecution of robberies, assaults of mail carriers

Forest Hill fires police chief whose command was marred by complaints

What can Fort Worth do to stop motel being built next to school?

🚨Get free alerts when news breaks.

Kickbacks refer to bribes intended as compensation in exchange for treatment or services.

Several pharmacies allegedly identified profitable prescriptions and recruited doctors to write those prescriptions, according to the indictment. The doctors referred the prescriptions, including “highly lucrative” pain creams, to those pharmacies in return for a share of the profits made on the prescriptions, the release states. The pharmacies tracked each prescription by doctor and funneled a share of the profits to the doctors through marketing firms and MSOs, including Trinity Champion and Hexamed, according to the indictment.

Anywhere from 45 to 55 percent of profits were kept by the pharmacy, which would pay 50 to 55 percent to a marketer called Med Left, the indictment alleges. Med Left would take a “significant” percentage of payment, sometimes half, and pay the rest to MSOs, including Trinity Champion, the release says. The organization would give a small percentage to its managing partner and pay remaining proceeds to the doctors, authorities allege.

In May 2018, a confidential source met with Mortazavi and Zeinali, saying he represented a group of doctors who wanted to get paid for prescriptions, according to the indictment. After Mortazavi and Zeinali only agreed to pay them through an MSO, the source met with an MSO operator who explained how the doctors would get paid for prescriptions they sent to pharmacies, federal authorities said.

That same month, Mortazavi and three doctors met to discuss changing their MSO model, agreeing that the MSO would receive a weekly report of prescriptions submitted the previous week, the indictment alleges. A report tracked each doctor by data including the patient, number of prescriptions filled, money due from insurance companies, cost to fill each prescription, authorities said. According to the indictment, three weeks later, a person affiliated with one of the MSOs asked Zeinali about which new drugs doctors “can get a good reimbursement on?”

If convicted, each defendant faces up to five years on the Travel Act conspiracy charge, 20 years on the deprivation of honest services wire fraud conspiracy charge, and 20 years on the money laundering conspiracy charge.

Two businessmen, Andrew Hillman and Semyon Narosov, owners of Next Health, pleaded guilty to charges in the scheme in October 2018, authorities said. Hillman was sentenced to 66 months and Narosov was given 76 months in prison for conspiracy to launder monetary instruments. The owner of marketing firm Med Left, Vinson Woodlee, pleaded guilty in a separate case to conspiracy to solicit and receive kickbacks for referrals to federal health care programs.