Doctor Sentenced for Role in Illegally Distributing 6.6 Million Opioid Pills and Submitting $250 Million in False Billings
Ringleader of Scheme Sentenced to 16.5 Years in Prison for Multiple Health Care Fraud-Related Charges Involving Sponsorship of Ultimate Fighting Championship Hall of Famers
A Michigan doctor was sentenced today to 16.5 years in prison for his role in a health care fraud scheme that resulted in over $250 million in false and fraudulent claims being submitted to Medicare, Medicaid, and other health insurance programs, exploited patients suffering from addiction by administering unnecessary injections, illegally distributed over 6.6 million doses of medically unnecessary opioids, and engaged in money laundering.
“This defendant exploited vulnerable patients struggling with addiction by overprescribing highly dangerous opioid pills and exposing them to unnecessary and sometimes painful injections,” said Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite, Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “To make matters worse, the defendant and his co-conspirators submitted over $250 million in false and fraudulent claims to Medicare, Medicaid, and other health insurance programs. As this case demonstrates, the Department of Justice will continue to relentlessly combat health care fraud, particularly where defendants endanger patients by providing addictive substances and billing for needless procedures.”
In September 2021, Francisco Patino, M.D., 68, of Wayne County, was convicted at trial in the Eastern District of Michigan of conspiracy to commit health care fraud and wire fraud, health care fraud, conspiracy to defraud the United States and pay and receive health care kickbacks, conspiracy to commit money laundering, and money laundering.
Patino joins 21 other defendants who were previously sentenced for participating in the same scheme.
“The defendant in this case preyed upon patients seeking treatment for addiction and pocketed the profits,” said Assistant Director Luis Quesada of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division. “The FBI and our law enforcement partners remain dedicated to pursuing those who exploit our healthcare system and the American people.”
According to court documents and evidence at trial, Patino owned multiple medical practices and clinical laboratories in Michigan. Patino played a critical role in developing and implementing a “shots-for-pills” protocol at several pain clinics, whereby patients were required to receive unnecessary back injections in exchange for prescriptions of dangerous and high doses of medically unnecessary and addictive opioids.
Patino excessively prescribed highly addictive opioids to his patients. In exchange for opioids, these patients would receive – or be billed as if they had received – facet joint or nerve block injections, both lucrative spinal injections. Although these spinal injections were purportedly intended to treat chronic pain, Patino injected the patients without regard to medical necessity. Evidence also revealed that if patients refused to accept the injections, Patino would withhold their prescriptions for opioids. From January 2012 through July 2017, Patino billed Medicare for more of these injections than any other provider in the country. In 2016 and 2017, Patino prescribed more 30-milligram Oxycodone pills than any other provider in Michigan.
“The significance of this sentence underscores the severity of the conduct by the defendant in this investigation,” said Special Agent in Charge Mario M. Pinto of the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG). “In particular, the administration of unnecessary injections, in exchange for unnecessary opioid prescriptions, places patients at serious risk of harm and exploits some of the most vulnerable people. Our office is committed to working together with our law enforcement partners to identify and investigate medical professionals and others who engage in fraudulent conduct and prey on beneficiaries of Federal health care programs.”
Patino also developed an illegal kickback relationship with at least one diagnostic laboratory, from which he was paid in exchange for referring his patients’ samples to that lab. Patino was aware that his ownership structure and kickbacks violated the law and authored emails acknowledging that such ownership constituted a “violation of the Stark and Anti-Kickback laws,” and attempted to conceal and disguise the ownership structure and scheme in order to keep himself “out of Federal Prison & having all our assets seized.” The evidence showed that Patino laundered the proceeds of the scheme to falsely portray himself as a legitimate doctor through the publication of a diet book and plan described as the “next Atkins,” paid-for appearances on a nationally syndicated television show, and the sponsorship of boxers, cagefighters, and prominent Ultimate Fighting Championship World Champions and Hall of Famers. Patino also spent funds he derived from these various schemes on luxury jewelry, cars, and international vacations. Between the medically unnecessary spinal injections and kickback-induced laboratory testing, Patino was responsible for over $120 million worth of fraudulent bills submitted to insurers for payment.
Additionally, Patino pioneered the shots-for-pills protocol while working with CEO Mashiyat Rashid of the Tri-County Wellness Group of medical providers in Michigan and Ohio. In 2018, Rashid pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit health care fraud and wire fraud and money laundering and was sentenced to 15 years in prison on March 3, 2021. Others convicted at trial or by guilty plea include 12 other physicians who were trained in Patino’s protocols, along with many non-physician defendants who participated in the conspiracy.
The five other defendants most recently sentenced for their part in this scheme include:
- Yasser Mozeb, 40, of Hamtramck, Michigan, the office manager of the Tri-County clinics, was sentenced to five years in prison and ordered to pay over $46 million in restitution following his guilty plea to one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud and one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States and pay and receive illegal kickbacks and bribes.
- Kashif Rasool, 47, of Troy, Michigan, a physician, was sentenced to 32 months in prison and ordered to pay nearly $2 million in restitution following his guilty plea to one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud.
- Tariq Siddiqi, 45, of Sterling Heights, Michigan, a physical therapist and home health owner, was sentenced to 30 months in prison and ordered to pay over $880,000 in restitution following his guilty plea to one count of health care fraud conspiracy in connection with his payment of illegal kickbacks for the referral of patients from the clinics for medically unnecessary home health services.
- Tasadaq Ali Ahmad, 55, of Canton, Michigan, the owner of a home health agency, was sentenced to 58 months in prison and ordered to pay over $20 million in restitution following his guilty plea to one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud and one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States and pay and receive kickbacks.
- Stephanie Borgula, 42, of Livonia, Michigan, a licensed physical therapist, was sentenced to 15 months in prison and ordered to pay over $825,000 in restitution following her guilty plea to one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud.
The FBI and HHS-OIG investigated the cases.
Acting Principal Assistant Deputy Chief Jacob Foster, Trial Attorneys Steven Scott, Kathleen Cooperstein, and Shankar Ramamurthy, as well as former Trial Attorney Thomas Tynan, of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section prosecuted the cases.