Doctor Admits Role in Illegal Kickback Scheme
NEWARK, N.J. – A Bergen County, New Jersey, doctor today admitted participating in a conspiracy to violate the federal anti-kickback statute, U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito announced.
Mark A. Filippone, 72, of Wallington, New Jersey, pleaded guilty today by videoconference before U.S. District Judge Susan D. Wigenton to an information charging him with conspiring to violate the anti-kickback statute with three individuals: Joseph Vangelas, a/k/a “Joseph Miller,” 34, of Fort Lee, New Jersey; Marlene Vangelas, 59, of River Vale, New Jersey; and Zachary Ohebshalom, 34, of Fort Lee, New Jersey. Criminal charges against Miller and Marlene Vangelas remain pending. Ohebshalom previously pleaded guilty for his role in the conspiracy, and Estela Blaustein, 55 of Mahwah, New Jersey, also previously pleaded guilty for her role in a related conspiracy to commit health care fraud.
According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court:
Beginning in May 2016, Filippone participated in a kickback conspiracy scheme to obtain millions of dollars in health benefits from the federal workers’ compensation program by prescribing and dispensing expensive, but medically unnecessary, pain creams. Filippone treated hundreds of now-former U.S. Postal Service employees for injuries they purportedly suffered on the job. He allegedly facilitated their disability claims by submitting forms and medical reports to the Department of Labor, Office of Workers’ Compensation Program, for patients who were not, in fact, disabled.
Filippone also prescribed expensive topical pain creams, which were not needed or wanted by many of his patients. Filippone steered these prescriptions to a pharmacy in Fair Lawn, New Jersey, which was owned and operated by Miller and Marlene Vangelas. Miller and Marlene Vangelas, along with Ohebshalom, directed pharmacy employees to mine reimbursement rates within the federal workers’ compensation program for the ingredients of the pain creams in order to determine the most lucrative formulations. Miller, Marlene Vangelas, and Ohebshalom also directed pharmacy employees to print prescription labels for Filippone to use with his patients. Filippone used the pre-printed labels and sent the prescriptions back to the Fair Lawn Pharmacy. In order to induce Filippone to prescribe the medically unnecessary pain creams in the exact formulations they wished to obtain, Miller and Marlene Vangelas orchestrated the purchase of Filippone’s medical office and then permitted Filippone to continue to use the premises, for which he routinely failed to pay rent. Miller, Marlene Vangelas, and Ohebshalom conspired to leverage the property to force Filippone to continue to send prescriptions to their pharmacy. Filippone continued to feed prescriptions to the pharmacy, so long as Miller and Vangelas permitted him to remain rent-free in the property.
The count of conspiracy to violate the federal anti-kickback statute is punishable by a maximum of five years in prison and a fine of $250,000, or twice the gross gain or loss derived from the offense, whichever is greater. Sentencing is scheduled for March 3, 2021.
U.S. Attorney Carpenito credited special agents of the FBI, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge George M. Crouch Jr. in Newark; the U.S. Postal Service, Office of Inspector General, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge of the Northeast Area Field Office Matthew M. Modafferi; the Department of Labor, Office of Inspector General, New York Region, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Michael C. Mikulka; and special agents of IRS-Criminal Investigation, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Michael Montanez in Newark, with the investigation leading to today’s guilty plea.
The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Joshua L. Haber and Nicole F. Mastropieri of the Health Care Fraud Unit in the Criminal Division, Newark.
The charges and allegations in the information pertaining to Miller and Marlene Vangelas are merely accusations, and they are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.