AKRON - Deepak Raheja, 66, of Hudson, Ohio, and Frank Mazzucco, 44, of Dublin, Ohio, pleaded guilty on Monday, Oct. 31, 2022, to their roles in a pharmaceutical kickback conspiracy in which Raheja, a licensed Ohio physician, wrote prescriptions for a drug to patients that did not have the condition in exchange for money and other items of value.
Raheja and Mazzucco both pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to solicit, receive, offer and pay health care kickbacks before U.S. District Judge Sara Lioi.
According to court documents, Raheja was a physician who specialized in psychiatry and neurology, practicing in Cleveland, Ohio. Mazzucco was employed by Avanir Pharmaceuticals as a regional business manager tasked with supervising pharmaceutical sales representatives in the region where Raheja practiced.
Avanir Pharmaceuticals manufactured Nuedexta, a drug approved by the FDA solely to treat pseudobulbar (PBA). PBA is a condition characterized by involuntary, sudden and frequent episodes of uncontrollable laughing and crying.
Court documents state that between February 2011 and July 2016, Raheja, Mazzucco and other codefendants conspired together to increase the number of prescriptions Raheja and other coconspirators wrote for Nuedexta in exchange for the payment of monetary kickbacks and other items of value.
According to court documents, Avanir promoted Nuedexta through a speaker’s bureau, in which Avanir representatives engaged doctors to speak about and promote Nuedexta to other medical professionals. Typical speaking engagements involved dinner at a high-end restaurant in which the doctor made a presentation with a slide deck provided by Avanir. An Avanir sales representative was responsible for inviting attendees and attending the presentation.
Court documents state that Raheja joined Avanir’s speaker’s bureau in February 2011 and gave approximately 211 speaking presentations at various restaurants and doctor’s offices between October 2011 and April 2016. Raheja received approximately $1,500 each for these purported presentations.
In total, court documents state that Raheja received approximately $331,550 in payments from Avanir between October 2011 and April 2016. During this time, Raheja wrote approximately 10,088 Nuedexta prescriptions – the highest in the country.
As part of the conspiracy, Mazzucco and other codefendants incentivized physicians, including Raheja, to write Nuedexta prescriptions through various means, such as arranging speaker’s bureau programs, which were mostly social events; honoraria payments; the falsification of sign-in sheets from speaking engagements to maximize payments and providing food and beverages to doctors and their office staff.
Court documents show that Raheja and the other codefendants took steps in return for these things of value, including writing more Nuedexta prescriptions; causing the submission of billings to Medicare and Medicaid for Nuedexta prescriptions for patients that did not have PBA; falsely diagnosing patients with PBA and recording fictitious symptoms in patient records to support a diagnosis of PBA.
As part of the terms of the plea agreement, defendant Raheja has agreed to a sentence of 30 months in prison, surrendering his medical license, at least $1,178,460.40 million in restitution and a fine to be determined.
Raheja is scheduled to be sentenced on Feb. 3, 2023, and Mazzucco is set to be sentenced on Feb. 15, 2023, before U.S. District Judge Sara Lioi.
This case was investigated by the Cleveland FBI, Health and Human Services – Office of Inspector General (HHS OIG) and the Ohio Attorney General’s Healthcare Fraud Section. This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Michael L. Collyer and Megan R. Miller.