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June 24, 2009

HUSBAND AND WIFE DOCTORS CHARGED WITH OPERATING A PILL MILL

(HOUSTON) - Two Houston area doctors have been charged by criminal complaint for operating their pain management clinic as a pill mill, United States Attorney Tim Johnson, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, FBI acting Special Agent in Charge Russel Robinson, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Special Agent in Charge Zoran B. Yankovich and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services - Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG) Assistant Special Agent in Charge Joseph Prekker announced today.

Dr. Arun Sharma and his wife, Dr. Kiran Sharma, M.D., both 54, are charged with conspiracy to commit health care fraud and conspiracy to unlawfully dispense and distribute controlled substances outside the scope of professional practice and not for a legitimate medical purpose. Dr. Kiran Sharma was taken into federal custody today and will remain in custody pending her appearance before a U.S. Magistrate Judge tomorrow. Her husband, Dr. Arun Sharma, is expected to surrender to federal authorities tomorrow. A warrant remains outstanding for his arrest.  

According to the allegations in the criminal complaint filed today, the Sharmas operate the Allergy, Asthma, Arthritis and Pain Centers located at on Cole Street in Webster, Texas, and another on Garth Road in Baytown, Texas. Records obtained from the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) demonstrate that Dr. Arun Sharma has allegedly prescribed 615,671 tablets of hydrocodone (Vicodan), 66,000 tablets of alprazolam (Xanax), and 26,000 tablets of diazepam (Valium) between Sept. 1, 2008, to May 22, 2009.

The affidavit supporting the federal criminal complaint details some examples of Dr. Arun Sharma’s alleged prescription pattern. One patient, PP, received 92 hydrocodone prescriptions, totaling 8,040 tablets between September 2008 and April 2009. On seven occasions, PP received two prescriptions on the same day from Dr. Arum Sharma which were filled at two different pharmacies. A second patient, AP, who resides at the same address as patient PP, allegedly received 31 hydrocodone prescriptions, totaling 2,430 tablets, between September 2008 and April 2009 from Dr. Arun Sharma. 

In yet another example alleged in the complaint, patients EZ and KZ, who reside together, each allegedly obtained prescriptions for almost 2000 tablets of hydrocodone from Dr. Arum Sharma between September 2008 and March 2009.

As a result of enforcement action conducted last week at the two pain clinics, the Sharma residence and two safe deposit boxes, $700,000 in cash was discovered at the Sharma residence, while $816,000 in cash was found in the two safe deposit boxes allegedly accessed only by Dr. Kiran Sharma. The affidavit alleges that Dr. Arun Sharma charged as much as $100 cash per hydrocodone prescription. A significant percentage of the $1.5 million in cash seized was in $20 dollar denominations and packaged in letter size envelopes, each secured with a rubber band and then placed in numerous plastic bags. 

Dr. Kiran Sharma, according to allegations in the complaint, handles all of the finances for the clinics including the incoming money and the payment of bills.  

Both doctors were also charged in a conspiracy to defraud Medicare and Medicaid of more than $8.7 million for facet joint injections that were never performed.
 
“The staggering dollar amount of the fraud alleged in just this one case should serve as an indicator to all of us that health care fraud poses a major threat to the soundness of our nation's economy, said Robinson. “The FBI, in conjunction with its federal, state and local partners, will continue to vigorously investigate the ‘pill mill’ clinics that generate income through the fraudulent billing of Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance. We encourage the public to report instances of health care fraud to their local FBI office."

The criminal charges are the result of a joint investigation being conducted by agents of the FBI, the DEA, HHS-OIG, and the Medicare Fraud Control Unit of the Texas Attorney General's Office in conjunction with the Webster, League City and Baytown Police Departments.

“Our office is committed to the relentless pursuit of those whose sole interest in health care is to raid the Medicare Trust Fund to satisfy their own greed, Prekker said.” 

Conspiracy to defraud Medicare and Medicaid carries a penalty of five years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine and the conspiracy to unlawfully dispense and distribute controlled substances, outside the scope of professional practice and not for a legitimate medical purpose carries a penalty of five years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine. This case will be prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Albert  Balboni.

An criminal complaint is an accusation of criminal conduct, not evidence. A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until convicted through due process of law.

 

 

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