Havertown Doctor Pleads Guilty to Unlawfully Importing Foreign, Injectable Drugs and Unlawfully Distributing Oxycodone
PHILADELPHIA – United States Attorney William M. McSwain announced that Thomas J. Whalen, D.O., 65, of Havertown, Pennsylvania, pled guilty to charges related to his unlawful importation of foreign, non-FDA approved injectable medications that he falsely billed to health care benefit programs in the amount of nearly $2.3 million. The Delaware County rheumatologist also pleaded guilty to unlawfully distributing oxycodone. Whalen knowingly prescribed oxycodone to patients actively using illicit drugs, including heroin and cocaine.
Whalen pled guilty to an Information charging him with one count of health care fraud, one count of importation contrary to law, and two counts of distribution of a controlled substance. He is scheduled to be sentenced on April 1, 2020, by U.S. District Judge Timothy J. Savage, who accepted his plea. Whalen faces a maximum possible sentence of 70 years’ imprisonment, a $2,500,000 fine, 3 years’ supervised release, and a $400 mandatory special assessment.
Whalen owned and operated Rheumatology Consultants, P.C., doing business as Whalen Rheumatology Group, with locations in Havertown, PA, Exton, PA, and Wilmington, DE. As part of his practice, Whalen used medications administrated by injection and infusion to treat his patients. These medications, including Remicade Synvisc, Synvisc-One, Orencia, Prolia/Xgeva, and Boniva, are made of living cells and are expensive. Rather than purchase FDA-approved versions of these medicines from authorized distributors, Whalen devised a scheme to purchase much cheaper foreign, non-FDA approved versions of these medications. Unbeknownst to his patients, Whalen injected or infused his patients with the non-FDA approved medications and then billed federal health care programs, pocketing approximately $1.1 million in illicit gains.
Whalen also prescribed oxycodone to patients abusing illicit drugs. The Information lists two patients to whom Whalen prescribed oxycodone despite receiving multiple urine drug screening results for each that revealed that the patients were simultaneously abusing cocaine and heroin.
“This guilty plea from Dr. Whalen is the latest example of my Office’s commitment to stopping health care fraud and diversion,” said U.S. Attorney McSwain. “We work closely with our partners in the Fraud Section’s Health Care Fraud Strike Force and will continue to root out fraud in the medical profession. Specifically, we are committed to stopping criminals in the medical profession from stealing from public programs, threatening the safety of patients, and pushing illegal pills onto the streets.”
“Dr. Whalen placed the health of countless patients at risk by administering non-FDA approved drugs. Such medications are not paid for by Medicare due to the risk they may pose to patient health,” said Special Agent in Charge Maureen R. Dixon of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General. “Our watchdog agency, along with our law enforcement partners, will continue to protect the public and root out dangerous and costly fraud schemes.”
“Dr. Whalen has pleaded guilty to the unlawful distribution of oxycodone, which is a powerful prescription painkiller. Of particular concern is that he knowingly prescribed oxycodone to patients that were abusing illegal street drugs such as cocaine and heroin,” said Jonathan A. Wilson, Special Agent in Charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) Philadelphia Field Division. “Doctors have a professional and moral obligation to treat patients that are struggling with substance use disorder – not enable it.”
“Dr. Whalen imported and used non-FDA approved drugs from Turkey and the United Kingdom, without any regard for the safety and health of his patients. In addition, he prescribed powerful pain killers to patients already struggling with addiction,” said William Walker, Acting Special Agent in Charge of HSI Philadelphia. “Doctors take an oath to do no harm. This oath was clearly betrayed by not only committing healthcare fraud for his own financial gain, but by contributing to our nation’s opioid crisis.” Walker continued, “Thanks to our partnership with Customs and Border Protection, we have brought one more person to justice, and many more individuals out of harm’s way.”
“When healthcare professionals import unsafe, untested prescription drugs from outside the drug supply chain that the FDA oversees, the American public health and trust are jeopardized,” said Mark S. McCormack, Special Agent in Charge, FDA Office of Criminal Investigations Metro Washington Field Office. “The FDA is committed to pursuing and bringing to justice those who attempt to subvert the safeguards of our closed drug supply by distributing unapproved products.”
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General, the Drug Enforcement Administration, Homeland Security Investigations, the Food and Drug Administration, Office of Criminal Investigations, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation investigated the case. Trial Attorney Debra Jaroslawicz with the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and Assistant United States Attorney Paul J. Koob are prosecuting the case.