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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Eastern District of Michigan

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Livonia Doctor Sentenced to More Than Twelve Years for Conspiring With Others to Illegally Distribute Prescription Drugs

Dr. Zongli Chang, M.D., was ordered today to serve a sentence of 135 months for conspiring with seven other patient recruiters (co-defendants in this case) to illegally distribute prescription drugs, U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider announced today.

Schneider was joined in the announcement by Special Agent in Charge Timothy Slater of the FBI’s Detroit Division and Special Agent in Charge Lamont Pugh III of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General’s (HHS-OIG) Chicago Regional Office.

Dr. Chang previously pleaded guilty, admitting that from approximately January 2012 to May of 2017, he and his coconspirators engaged in large-scale opioid diversion scheme.  The scheme, according to Chang, relied upon “patient recruiters” bringing fake patients to his office.  Chang would, in turn, write medically unnecessary and highly addictive controlled substance prescriptions in return for cash payments. Chang commonly wrote prescriptions for controlled substances, to include Hydrocodone-Acetaminophen, Oxycodone HCl, Alprazolam, Carisoprodol and Promethazine/codeine syrup.  The amount paid for a visit and prescription varied, but according to Chang’s plea agreement, he was typically paid at least $150, up to as high as $400 for more desirable opioid controlled substances.  Chang further acknowledged that following the issuance of prescriptions, the recruiters would transport the patients to pharmacies where the prescriptions were filled, and then take possession of the controlled substances for further illegal distribution. These controlled substances had a conservative street value in excess of $18,000.000.

Since the charges in this case were unsealed in January, 2018, six of the seven patient recruiters have also pleaded guilty to engaging in this conspiracy. 

In addition to serving a 135-month sentence, United States District Court Judge Sean Cox ordered Chang to pay a $1 million criminal fine.  Chang also agreed to the entry of a $3 million forfeiture judgment, satisfied in large part by assets seized near the time of his arrest. 

U.S. Attorney Schneider noted that “this sentence sends a strong message to every other physician that deliberately writes unnecessary opioid prescriptions, knowing full well that the drugs will ultimately be sold on the streets, that they will be treated no differently than any other major drug dealer.  A medical license will not shield them from criminal consequences.”

“We entrust physicians to care for their patients in a manner that is consistent with their oath to do no harm,” said FBI SAC Slater. “Prescribing opioids with the knowledge that the drugs would ultimately be distributed illegally contributes to the ongoing opioid addiction crisis and cannot be tolerated. The FBI and our federal partners remain committed to identifying and disrupting physicians who engage in this type of drug diversion scheme.”

The Eastern District of Michigan is one of the twelve districts included in the Opioid Fraud Abuse and Detection Unit, a Department of Justice initiative created by Attorney General Sessions, that uses data to target and prosecute individuals that are contributing to the nation’s opioid crisis.  Dr. Chang’s suspicious patterns of prescriptions were detectable from data analysis by the Opioid Fraud Abuse and Detection Unit.

The case was investigated by Special Agents of the FBI and HHS and prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Brant Cook, John Engstrom and Paul Kuebler.

Topic(s): 
Opioids
Updated April 17, 2019