Former Pain Management Doctor Receives 5 Years in Health Care Fraud Case, Ordered to Pay More Than 15 Million Dollars in Restitution
United States Attorney Richard W. Moore of the Southern District of Alabama announces today that Chief United States District Judge Kristi K. DuBose sentenced Rassan M. Tarabein, 58, a former neurologist residing in Fairhope, Alabama, to 60 months imprisonment in a health care fraud case. The judge ordered that Tarabein pay restitution totaling $15,010,682 to six different health care benefit programs, including Medicare and the Alabama Medicaid Agency. The judge also ordered Tarabein to undergo one year of supervised release after finishing his term of imprisonment, and pay a $200 mandatory special assessment.
Tarabein previously operated the Eastern Shore Neurology and Pain Center, a private clinic in Daphne, Alabama where he offered services relating to neurology and pain management, such as spinal injections. He had advertised himself as a “World Leading Physician” on his clinic’s website.
On June 28, 2017, a federal grand jury for the Southern District of Alabama returned a 22–count superseding indictment against Tarabein, charging him with health care fraud, making false statements relating to health care matters, lying to a federal agent, unlawfully distributing schedule II controlled substances, and money laundering. He was arrested two days later at Mobile Regional Airport en route to the Middle East and taken to federal district court in Mobile, Alabama for an initial appearance.
On August 31, 2017, Tarabein pleaded guilty before Chief Judge DuBose to one count of health care fraud and one count of unlawful distribution of a schedule II controlled substance. As part of his guilty plea, Tarabein admitted that from around 2004 to May 2017, he ran an insurance scam in which he induced patients to visit his clinic so that he could bill health care benefit programs for medically unnecessary tests and procedures. The purpose of Tarabein’s admitted scheme was to maximize personal financial gain by fraudulently seeking payments from health care benefit programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama, Humana, UnitedHealthcare, Cigna HealthSpring, and other private insurers. In pleading guilty, Tarabein acknowledged that he violated the traditional standards of medical care in numerous ways. For example, Tarabein admitted to:
- Administering unnecessary injections and attempting to inject patients in places where they were not experiencing pain.
- Telling patients that they had to receive spinal procedures and diagnostic testing in order to receive prescriptions for controlled substances.
- Using improper medical techniques and equipment in performing procedures.
- Failing to provide informed consent to patients about procedures.
- Superimposing his patients’ electronic signatures onto forms that indicated that his patients were waiving their right to monitoring “against medical advice.”
- Failing to monitor his patients’ vital signs during and after procedures, putting them at risk for complications.
- Spending little time with patients to maximize billings.
- Discriminating against Alabama Medicaid patients in services rendered, including by singling out certain Alabama Medicaid patients to receive spinal injections in regular exam rooms – as opposed to the fluoroscope procedure room – without imaging guidance if he was behind schedule.
- Fraudulently documenting patient records, including by falsifying records to describe procedures that were at times anatomically impossible to execute and by falsely recording the use of imaging guidance.
- Submitting false claims to insurance companies and inflating billing codes.
- Failing to properly train his clinic’s employees about best medical practices, such as sterility and accurate record keeping.
- Issuing prescriptions for controlled substances without a legitimate medical purpose and outside the usual course of professional practice, including by relying on pre-signing blank prescriptions when outside the United States to prescribe opioids.
- Disregarding audits and regulatory actions.
During Tarabein’s health care fraud scheme, the Alabama Board of Medical Examiners and several health care benefit programs had repeatedly placed Tarabein on notice, both verbally and in writing, for shortcomings in his medical practice, such as performing unnecessary procedures and prescribing controlled substances for no legitimate medical purpose. Despite receiving multiple warnings and reprimands, Tarabein persisted in his offense conduct for years and made millions of dollars in the process.
As a result of his felony convictions, Tarabein is prohibited from practicing medicine and prescribing controlled substances in the United States. Moreover, he has agreed to forfeit numerous properties in connection with his health care fraud scheme. These assets include:
- $3,717,249.73 seized by law enforcement officials who executed warrants on eight financial accounts in June 2017.
- $287,983.25 in cash seized by officials while executing a search warrant at Tarabein’s home in October 2016.
- Eight real estate properties. Six of these properties were previously sold to generate funds for restitution to financial victims, netting around $1,639,652.36.
Upon completion of the forfeiture process, the United States will request that the Department of Justice’s Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section direct that all forfeited and liquidated assets be restored to the crime victims to provide them as much restitution as possible.
Several of Tarabein’s former patients spoke at today’s sentencing hearing. They described to Chief Judge DuBose the lingering physical and emotional impact of the treatment they received from Tarabein at his clinic. One patient told the judge, “Dr. Tarabein can forget me, but his name is etched in my mind the rest of my life.” Referring to Tarabein, this patient also noted, “No matter how much time in prison he gets, I am imprisoned in this body.” Another former patient who received spinal injections from Tarabein said in court, “He ruined my life for the rest of my life.” The patient went on to remark, “I feel sorry he let his greed take people’s lives.” A third patient victim portrayed Tarabein as a disgrace upon the medical profession.
Dr. Tarabein also briefly addressed the court at sentencing. He told the judge, “My American dream came to a complete end, as did my career as a doctor.”
Tarabein has a related state case pending in Montgomery County, Alabama. On June 16, 2017, a state grand jury returned a 2–count indictment against Tarabein, charging him with Medicaid fraud and theft of property in the first degree, each a felony offense. On September 19, 2017, Tarabein pleaded guilty in state court to Medicaid fraud. His expected sentencing date in that case is June 28, 2018.
United States Attorney Moore stated, “Medical professionals must be trustworthy. When they mistreat their patients and break the law, they must be held to account. In this case, the defendant stole millions of dollars from health care benefit programs and sacrificed the health of his patients for greed. I thank all the investigators for their hard work for helping to bring this defendant to justice and protecting the public safety. Health care fraud and opioid abuse continue to have a devastating impact on our communities, both locally and nationwide. Our office’s prosecution of Dr. Tarabein is an example of the Department of Justice’s unwavering commitment to combating health care fraud and our country’s opioid epidemic.”
“This doctor’s actions demonstrate an appalling abuse of his patients’ trust and callous exploitation of their medical conditions to cheat health care and insurance agencies out of millions of dollars,” said Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall. “I am proud of the work by my Medicaid Fraud Control Unit in partnership with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Alabama, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General (OIG), to bring Tarabein to justice and am pleased that he has been held to account with this prison sentence and order to pay restitution for his crimes.”
FBI Special Agent in Charge, James Jewell, stated, “The FBI is dedicated to identifying and assisting in the prosecution of doctors that clearly take advantage of the medical system. This case shows that the law enforcement community in the State of Alabama will work together to bring these corrupt caregivers to justice.”
“Rassan Tarabein took an oath to serve humanity as a medical professional and decided to violate that oath and his duty by choosing to unlawfully distribute prescription drugs and commit health care fraud for one sole purpose – greed. His disgraceful conduct is part of the massive opioid epidemic Alabama and the entire nation is facing today. Let this sentence be a message to all that DEA will continue to pursue, arrest, and prosecute drug traffickers of every type, including rouge medical professionals. We will continue to work with all of our law enforcement and community partners in an effort to combat this opioid epidemic and keep our communities safe,” stated DEA Assistant Special Agent in Charge Bret Hamilton.
“Schemes such as this deprive federal health care programs of the ability to deliver quality care and ultimately cheat patients out of vital taxpayer-funded programs,” said Derrick L. Jackson, Special Agent in Charge of the Office of Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “The OIG continues to emphasize the investigation of unscrupulous providers who put their own financial gain above that of the health of their patients.”
The FBI, DEA, OIG, and Alabama Medicaid Fraud Control Unit investigated the federal case. Assistant United States Attorney Sinan Kalayoglu prosecuted the federal case. Assistant Attorney General Bruce M. Lieberman is prosecuting the state case.