Louisiana Physician's Assistant Pleads Guilty to Scheme to Unlawfully Distribute Controlled Substances
WASHINGTON – A Baton Rouge, Louisiana-based physician’s assistant pleaded guilty today for his role in a scheme to unlawfully distribute thousands of oxycodone pills.
Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Brandon J. Fremin of the Middle District of Louisiana, Special Agent in Charge Stephen G. Azzam of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)’s New Orleans Field Division, Special Agent in Charge C.J. Porter of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General’s (HHS-OIG) Dallas Field Office and Special Agent in Charge Eric J. Rommal of the FBI’s New Orleans Field Office made the announcement.
Christopher William Armstrong, 44, of Prairieville, Louisiana, was charged in a June indictment with conspiracy to distribute oxycodone, a Schedule II controlled substance. Armstrong pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge John W. deGravelles of the Middle District of Louisiana, who accepted his plea today.
“Christopher Armstrong abused his position as a licensed physician’s assistant to create fraudulent prescriptions for over 40,000 medically unnecessary oxycodone pills,” said Assistant Attorney General Benczkowski. “The Department of Justice will continue to combat the opioid crisis by holding to account corrupt medical professionals who distribute illegal prescription opioids for profit.”
“This conviction is a signal to medical professionals not to abuse your position and put our community at risk,” said U.S. Attorney Fremin. “We will not tolerate unscrupulous health care workers increasing the supply of unauthorized prescription drugs on our streets. I want to thank our prosecutors, the Department of Justice’s Medicare Fraud Strike Force, DEA, HHS-OIG, and FBI for their important work on this case.”
According to admissions made as part of his plea agreement, Armstrong was a licensed physician’s assistant employed by Louisiana Spine & Sports LLC, a pain management clinic located in Baton Rouge, from approximately August 2004 through January 2014. Armstrong admitted that he logged into the clinic’s computer system and, without authorization, created fraudulent prescriptions for controlled substances such as oxycodone. He then printed the fraudulent prescriptions and either forged the signatures of the clinic’s physicians on the prescriptions or caused those physicians to unknowingly sign the prescriptions. Armstrong further admitted that he distributed the fraudulent prescriptions to co-conspirators, who he instructed to fill the prescriptions at pharmacies and return the controlled substances to him in return for cash payments. Armstrong admitted that in an effort to conceal the scheme, he deleted records of the fraudulent prescriptions from the clinic’s computer system. As part of his plea, Armstrong admitted that from approximately May 2009 through March 2014, he fraudulently generated prescriptions for at least 40,470 oxycodone pills.
DEA, HHS-OIG, and FBI investigated the case. The investigation was further developed by the East Baton Rouge District Attorney’s Office. Trial Attorneys Katherine Payerle and Justin M. Woodard of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Demetrius D. Sumner of the Middle District of Louisiana are prosecuting the case.
The Fraud Section leads the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, which is part of a joint initiative between the Department of Justice and HHS to focus their efforts to prevent and deter fraud and enforce current anti-fraud laws around the country. Since its inception in March 2007, the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, which maintains 14 strike forces operating in 23 districts, has charged nearly 4,000 defendants who have collectively billed the Medicare program for more than $14 billion.