Medical Doctor Sentenced For Drug Trafficking And Health Care Fraud Offenses
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – On May 27, 2021, Michael LaPaglia, 49, was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment by the Honorable Katherine A. Crytzer in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee at Knoxville. LaPaglia was also ordered to pay restitution to the health care providers who were victims in this case.
According to documents filed with the court, LaPaglia, a medical doctor, who previously lost his authorization to write prescriptions for controlled substances, had pleaded guilty to an information charging him with one count of conspiring to distribute controlled substances and one count of making a material false statement in connection with the delivery of health care benefits. The charges stem from LaPaglia’s involvement in a mobile Suboxone clinic through which LaPaglia issued prescriptions for Suboxone, Clonazepam, diazepam, and Pregabalin in the name of another doctor.
In the spring of 2018, in the Eastern District of Tennessee, investigators with Federal Bureau of Investigation ("FBI") and Department of Health and Human Services ("HHS") responded to a complaint that LaPaglia was issuing prescriptions for Suboxone without the authority to do so. Investigators learned that LaPaglia would meet patients at his home and in parking lots where, without any meaningful examination, LaPaglia would give the drug customers prescriptions (signed by another doctor) for controlled substances. Customers were charged $300 cash per monthly visit. The customers would then take their prescriptions to be filled at pharmacies, where a number of them used their health insurance to pay for the controlled substances.
"The public places great trust in our medical professionals, and our office is committed to safeguarding that trust through the vigorous enforcement of federal laws," said Acting United States Attorney Francis M. Hamilton III. "Doctors are supposed to help people, not hurt them, and those who abuse their position by illegally prescribing opioids will be prosecuted."
"Tennessee remains at the epicenter of the opioid crisis. Opioid abuse destroys lives, and it devastates families. It is extremely disappointing when caregivers allow greed and selfishness to violate their oath to help those in need. The FBI along with our federal, state, and local partners will continue to investigate and hold those accountable to face the consequences of their actions,” said Joseph E. Carrico, Special Agent-in-Charge of the Knoxville office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
"Protecting the health and safety of Medicare and Medicaid patients is our number one priority,” said Derrick L. Jackson, Special Agent in Charge at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General in Atlanta. "This provider’s reckless actions not only eluded his prescribing restrictions but endangered the health and safety of these patients."
The charges were the result of an investigation by FBI, HHS, and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). This case was brought as part of the Opioid Fraud and Abuse initiative, a comprehensive national strategy that focuses on investigations and prosecutions of medical providers who prescribe opioids outside of the course of professional medical practice and for no legitimate purpose.
Assistant United States Attorneys Anne-Marie Svolto and David Lewen represented the United States.