Jury Convicts Doctor of Health Care Fraud, Distributing Controlled Substances through Pain Cream Scheme and Suboxone Clinic
COLUMBUS, Ohio – A jury has convicted a Central Ohio doctor with charges related to a health care fraud scheme that included marketing prescription creams in Sav-a-Lot and low-income neighborhoods and persistently mailing those creams to Medicaid customers, as well as prescribing and distributing Suboxone without medical necessity.
Bernard Oppong, 60, of Blacklick, Ohio was convicted on five counts following a trial that began on April 22 before U.S. District Judge Algenon L. Marbley.
Benjamin C. Glassman, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio, Lamont Pugh III, Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General, Todd A. Wickerham, Special Agent in Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Cincinnati Division, Timothy J. Plancon, Special Agent in Charge, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost and Steven W. Schierholt, Executive Director, State of Ohio Board of Pharmacy announced the conviction.
According to court documents and testimony at trial, from January 2013 until April 2017, Oppong committed health care fraud.
Oppong was employed as a doctor at Health and Wellness Medical Center located on Perimeter Drive in Dublin. The center is affiliated with Health and Wellness Pharmacy on Blazer Parkway in Dublin. Co-defendants also previously operated a pharmacy location within Sav-a-Lot on Mock Road in Columbus.
Oppong and others sought to enrich themselves by billing for compound creams that were either not provided or were not medically necessary, billing for counseling services that were not provided, billing for individual counseling sessions that actually occurred in a group setting and billing for counseling services performed by an unqualified individual when there was no proper supervising physician.
Oppong and others prescribed and Medicaid was billed for compound creams to treat pain, scarring and acne. Health and Wellness Pharmacy billed Medicaid $3 million for the creams, and Oppong was the ordering provider for more than half a million dollars of the claims.
For example, between January 2014 and April 2015, Health and Wellness Pharmacy submitted 1,436 claims for one compound cream, known as VersabaseA. The pharmacy with the second-highest amount of claims for that cream in that time only submitted 202 claims.
During the first quarter of 2015, Health and Wellness would sometimes bill for less than 10 prescriptions per day, and on other days it would bill for as many as 477 prescriptions. It also billed for filling prescriptions on Saturdays and Sundays when the pharmacy was not open.
Defendants billed for the creams with no medical necessity, as patients never requested the creams, were never actually prescribed them and had never met with Oppong.
The pharmacy marketed the compound creams at Clinic 5 (a Suboxone clinic), Sav-a-Lot and through a mobile van unit.
Patients with CareSource were targeted and told they were receiving free samples of pain cream. Then they began to receive more cream in the mail without requesting more. These were also billed to CareSource.
Customers at Sav-a-Lot and in low-income neighborhoods were asked to fill out a survey asking about any conditions that they suffered from. Then, they would receive the compound creams in the mail every month, even when customers directed the co-conspirators to stop sending them. Many of these customers never met with a doctor, nor did they know Oppong, the prescribing physician.
Oppong was registered through the DEA to prescribe the drug addiction treatment Suboxone to up to 275 patients at any one given time.
Health and Wellness Medical Center submitted fraudulent claims to Medicaid for psychotherapy services that were never rendered to patients.
Specifically, patients indicated they would sit in a room with a timer. When the timer went off, they were allowed to leave and receive their Suboxone prescription, which was written by Oppong and co-conspirators. No counseling services were provided during this time. Some patients reported coloring in coloring books during the time they were in the room.
Oppong pre-signed prescriptions for Suboxone and left them at the medical center for anyone to distribute. Prescriptions were issued to patients who had repeatedly failed urine tests.
The medical center treated patients paying with cash differently than those with insurance. The patients paying with cash only had appointments every two weeks or once a month, and paid $300. Insured patients had appointments three times a week. Cash-paying patients were only required to attend 15 to 30 minutes of counseling, while insured patients were required to stay for one hour.
Oppong and co-defendants averaged more than 150 patients per day.
Oppong was convicted of one count of executing a health care fraud scheme (punishable by up to 10 years in prison), as well as three counts of making false health care statements (five years per count) and one count of conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance (15 years).
Hilliard couple Darrell L. Bryant, 43, and Gifty Kusi, 34, were convicted by a jury in December 2018 of conspiracy to commit health care fraud and health care fraud following a two-week trial before Judge Marbley.
A final defendant Jornel Rivera, 54, of Dublin, pleaded guilty in May 2018 to making false statements related to health care matters. Rivera served as the Medical Director of Health and Wellness Medical Center.
U.S. Attorney Glassman commended the investigation of this case by the Ohio Attorney General’s Office’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit, State of Ohio Board of Pharmacy, HHS-OIG, FBI and DEA, as well as Assistant United States Attorneys Kenneth F. Affeldt and Maritsa A. Flaherty, who are prosecuting the case.
This case is being prosecuted as part of the Department of Justice’s Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit. Assistant United States Attorney Flaherty represents the unit in the Southern District of Ohio, which is one of 12 Districts to receive funding for such a prosecutor.
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