Montgomery Nurse Practitioner Convicted of Unlawfully Distributing Controlled Substances, Health Care Fraud, and Conspiracy
Montgomery, Alabama – On Monday, October 29, 2018, a federal jury convicted nurse practitioner Lilian Ifeoma Akwuba, 39, of Montgomery, Alabama, on 17 counts of unlawfully distributing controlled substances, 4 counts of health care fraud, 1 count of conspiring to distribute controlled substances, and 1 count of conspiring to commit health care fraud, announced United States Attorney Louis V. Franklin, Sr.
The trial evidence showed that, from 2013 through 2016, Akwuba worked at Family Practice, a Montgomery medical practice located at 4143 Atlanta Highway. Her supervisor there was the practice’s owner, Dr. Gilberto Sanchez. Working under Sanchez, Akwuba issued and caused to be issued unnecessary and illegitimate prescriptions for a variety of controlled substances, including fentanyl, hydrocodone (commonly known as “Norco”), oxycodone (commonly known as “Percocet”), alprazolam (commonly known as “Xanax”), and methadone. Akwuba and Sanchez also required these patients to return approximately every month to obtain their prescriptions. These unnecessary office visits and unlawful prescriptions were ultimately billed to the insurance companies, which paid the claims.
In 2016, Akwuba left Family Practice and opened her own practice, Mercy Family Health Care, located at 128 Mytilene Park Drive in east Montgomery. Many of Family Practice’s former patients followed her there. After they did so, Akwuba continued to prescribe the patients the drugs the patients had received at Family Practice. In several instances, she increased the patients’ dosages or switched the patients to more potent narcotics than Sanchez had prescribed. Because Akwuba was a nurse practitioner and not a physician, she was not able to issue prescription refills on Schedule II controlled substances without a physician’s approval. Akwuba skirted this rule by, in many instances, forging physicians’ signatures on prescriptions for controlled substances. Additionally, Akwuba instructed her staff members to falsify medical records, so as to justify billing for office visits at increased rates. For example, trial evidence showed that Akwuba falsely reported performing 10 rectal exams on the same patient during the course of a single year. She also erroneously claimed to have performed a colonoscopy in her family practice office.
Following these convictions, Akwuba is facing up to 20 years in prison, substantial fines, and up to 3 years of supervised release.
“We will never be able to fully appreciate the harm that Ms. Akwuba caused to the patients who put their trust in her,” stated United States Attorney Franklin. “Patients hoped that Ms. Akwuba would appropriately treat their illnesses. Instead, she inflicted upon them a new disease—addiction. I hope that this verdict will send a strong message to the medical community. Society will no longer tolerate health care providers who are willing to betray their patients’ trust to make an easy buck.”
“The arrests and subsequent indictments of the individuals in this ongoing case are part of DEA's continuing effort to target the distribution of dangerous drugs at all levels,” said DEA Assistant Special Agent-in-Charge Bret Hamilton. “Illicit drug abuse and related criminal activity takes a tremendous toll communities throughout Alabama. We will continue to work closely with our law enforcement partners in order to enhance the quality of life for the citizens of this state by pursuing ALL criminals involved in the illicit drug trade, even if they're committing their crimes in a doctor's office.”
“Health care fraud is the ultimate betrayal of the trust that patients place with their providers. In this case, Akwuba, a nurse practitioner, took advantage of people suffering from addiction to opioids, to line her own pockets,” said Derrick L. Jackson, Special Agent in Charge at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General in Atlanta. “We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to protect patients and the health care programs intended to serve them.”
“Akwuba violated her professional and ethical oath by knowingly participating in this pill mill operation,” said Thomas J. Holloman, Special Agent in Charge, IRS-Criminal Investigation. “IRS-CI will continue working with our law enforcement partners in the fight to significantly impact the opioid epidemic.”
The case was investigated Drug Enforcement Agency, Health and Human Services-Office of the Inspector General, and Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation. The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, the Opelika, Alabama Police Department, the Montgomery, Alabama Police Department, and the Alabama Board of Medical Examiners all assisted in the investigation. Assistant United States Attorneys Jonathan S. Ross, Megan A. Kirkpatrick, and Rand Neeley are prosecuting the case.