BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – A judge sentenced a Tennessee physician and his wife yesterday for unlawfully distributing opioids and defrauding insurers through their now-shuttered Alabama clinics.
Chief U.S. District Court Judge L. Scott Coogler sentenced Mark Murphy, 66, and his wife, Jennifer Murphy, 66, both of Lewisburg, each to twenty years in prison for conspiracy to unlawfully distribute controlled substances and conspiracy to commit health care fraud, along with various substantive counts related to the same, and conspiring to defraud the United States and receiving kickbacks.
"Dr. Murphy and his wife preyed on countless vulnerable patients and stole tens of millions of dollars from Medicare and other taxpayer-funded health insurance programs," said U.S. Attorney Escalona. "Our office will continue to prosecute drug dealers and health care fraudsters to the full extent of the law."
“The abuse of prescription drugs, especially opioids, is a serious problem in our communities,” said DEA Assistant Special Agent in Charge Towanda Thorne-James. “All too often, this abuse leads to addiction, shattered lives, and even death. For the health and safety of our citizens, DEA and our law enforcement partners will continue to target those who illegally distribute these potentially dangerous drugs. We hope that the sentences in this case serve as a reminder to anyone who might illegally divert pharmaceuticals that they will be held accountable for the harm they cause.”
“Mark and Jennifer Murphy learned today that unlawfully distributing controlled substances, committing health care fraud, and receiving kickbacks comes with hefty legal consequences,” said James E. Dorsey, Special Agent in Charge, IRS Criminal Investigation, Atlanta Field Office. “Their conviction today serves as a lesson to others who think no one is paying attention.”
According to court documents and evidence presented at trial, Mark Murphy and Jennifer Murphy owned and operated North Alabama Pain Services (NAPS), which closed its Decatur and Madison offices in early 2017. Mark Murphy was the sole doctor at the two locations, and the evidence at trial showed that some patients went months or years without seeing him during their monthly office visits, even though they continued to get opioid prescriptions that he had pre-signed. Over the approximately five-year period leading up to the clinic closing its Alabama locations, the evidence at sentencing showed, Murphy wrote prescriptions for more than ten million opioid pills, including millions of oxycodone 30 mg tablets. During the same five-year period, Murphy and his wife Jennifer, who helped run the clinics, ordered tens of millions of dollars of unnecessary items and services that were paid by taxpayer-funded and private insurance programs. The Murphys received kickbacks for those orders and prescriptions. In all, Medicare, TRICARE, and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama were billed more than $280 million as a result of the fraud and kickback schemes, and paid more than $50 million. Mark Murphy and Jennifer Murphy were each ordered to pay more than $50 million in restitution. Jennifer Murphy was also convicted of tax-related charges for underreporting clinic income.
Also yesterday, co-conspirator, Christie Rollins, 52, of Petersburg, Tennessee, was sentenced to twenty-four months in prison for her role in selling medically unnecessary durable medical equipment and expensive topical creams at NAPS. Rollins agreed to pay restitution of more than $564,000.
Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division; U.S. Attorney Prim F. Escalona for the Northern District of Alabama; Special Agent in Charge Bradford L. Byerly of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) New Orleans Field Division; Special Agent in Charge Carlton L. Peeples of the FBI Birmingham Division; Special Agent in Charge James E. Dorsey of IRS Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI) Atlanta Field Office; and Special Agent in Charge Tamela E. Miles of the Department of Health and Human Service Office of the Inspector General (HHS-OIG) Atlanta Region made the announcement.
FBI, HHS-OIG, IRS-CI and DEA investigated the case.
Assistant Chief Jillian Willis and Trial Attorney Emily Gurskis of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney J.B. Ward of the Northern District of Alabama prosecuted the case.
The Fraud Section leads the Appalachian Regional Prescription Opioid (ARPO) Strike Force. Since its inception in October 2018, the ARPO Strike Force, which operates in 10 districts, has charged more than 90 defendants who are collectively responsible for distributing more than 105 million pills. The ARPO Strike Force is part of the Health Care Fraud Strike Force Program, which since March 2007 has charged more than 4,200 defendants who collectively have billed the Medicare program for more than $19 billion. In addition, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, working in conjunction with the Office of the Inspector General for the Department of Health and Human Services, are taking steps to hold providers accountable for their involvement in health care fraud schemes. More information can be found at: https://www.justice.gov/criminal-fraud/health-care-fraud-unit.