Justia White Collar Crime Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Medical Malpractice
by
The Drug Enforcement Administration investigated Dr. Ley and his opioid addiction treatment company, DORN, conducted undercover surveillance, and decided Ley did not have a legitimate medical purpose in prescribing Suboxone. Indiana courts issued warrants, culminating in arrests of four physicians and one nurse and seven non-provider DORN employees. Indiana courts dismissed the charges against the non-providers and the nurse. Ley was acquitted; the state dismissed the charges against the remaining providers. DORN’s providers and non-provider employees sued, alleging false arrest, malicious prosecution, and civil conspiracy. The district court entered summary judgment for the defendants, holding probable cause supported the warrants at issue. The Seventh Circuit affirmed as to every plaintiff except Mackey, a part-time parking lot attendant. One of Ley’s former patients died and that individual’s family expressed concerns about Ley; other doctors voiced concerns, accusing Ley of prescribing Suboxone for pain to avoid the 100-patient limit and bring in more revenue. At least one pharmacy refused to fill DORN prescriptions. Former patients reported that they received their prescriptions without undergoing any physical exam. DORN physicians prescribed an unusually high amount of Suboxone; two expert doctors opined that the DORN physicians were not prescribing Suboxone for a legitimate medical purpose. There was evidence that the non-provider employees knew of DORN’s use of pre-signed prescriptions and sometimes distributed them. There were, however, no facts alleged in the affidavit that Mackey was ever armed, impeded investigations, handled money, or possessed narcotics. View "Vierk v. Whisenand" on Justia Law

by
Ace, a licensed physician, and Lesa Chaney owned and operated Ace Clinique in Hazard, Kentucky. An anonymous caller told the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services that Ace pre-signed prescriptions. An investigation revealed that Ace was absent on the day that several prescriptions signed by Ace and dated that day were filled. Clinique employees admitted to using and showed agents pre-signed prescription blanks. Agents obtained warrants to search Clinique and the Chaneys’ home and airplane hangar for evidence of violations of 21 U.S.C. 841(a)(1), knowing or intentional distribution of controlled substances, and 18 U.S.C. 1956(h), conspiracies to commit money laundering. Evidence seized from the hangar and evidence seized from Clinique that dated to before March 2006 were suppressed. The court rejected arguments that the warrants’ enumeration of “patient files” was overly broad and insufficiently particular. During trial, an alternate juror reported some “concerns about how serious[ly] the jury was taking their duty.” The court did not tell counsel about those concerns. After the verdict, the same alternate juror—who did not participate in deliberations—contacted defense counsel; the court conducted an in camera interview, then denied a motion for a new trial. To calculate the sentencing guidelines range, the PSR recommended that every drug Ace prescribed during the relevant time period and every Medicaid billing should be used to calculate drug quantity and loss amount. The court found that 60 percent of the drugs and billings were fraudulent, varied downward from the guidelines-recommended life sentences, and sentenced Ace to 180 months and Lesa to 80 months in custody. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, rejecting challenges to the constitutionality of the warrant that allowed the search of the clinic; the sufficiency of the evidence; and the calculation of the guidelines range and a claim of jury misconduct. View "United States v. Chaney" on Justia Law

by
Dr. Paulus, a cardiologist at Ashland, Kentucky’s KDMC, was first in the nation in billing Medicare for angiograms. His annual salary was around $2.5 million, under KDMC’s per-procedure compensation package. In 2008, HHS received an anonymous complaint that Paulus was defrauding Medicare and Medicaid by performing medically unnecessary procedures, 42 U.S.C. 1320c-5(a)(1), 1395y(a)(1), placing stents into arteries that were not blocked, with the encouragement of KDMC. An anti-fraud contractor selected 19 angiograms for an audit and concluded that in seven cases, the blockage was insufficient to warrant a stent. Medicare denied reimbursement for those procedures and continued investigating. A private insurer did its own review and concluded that at least half the stents ordered by Paulus were not medically necessary. The Kentucky Board of Medical Licensure subpoenaed records and concluded that Paulus had diagnosed patients with severe stenosis where none was apparent from the angiograms. Paulus had retired; he voluntarily surrendered his medical license. A jury convicted Paulus on 10 false-statement counts and on the healthcare fraud count. It acquitted him on five false-statement counts. The court set aside the guilty verdicts and granted Paulus a new trial. The Sixth Circuit reversed. The degree of stenosis is a fact capable of proof. A doctor who deliberately inflates the blockage he sees on an angiogram has told a lie; if he does so to bill a more expensive procedure, then he has also committed fraud. View "United States v. Paulus" on Justia Law

by
Dr. Kohli, a board-certified neurologist with extensive training in the treatment of chronic pain, operated the Kohli Neurology and Sleep Center in Effingham, Illinois. Irregularities in the practice eventually caught the attention of federal officials; he was indicted on three counts of healthcare fraud, two counts of money laundering, and 10 counts of illegal dispensation of a controlled substance (Controlled Substances Act, 21 U.S.C. 841(a)). During a 15-day trial, the jury learned about Dr. Kohli’s prescribing practices from law enforcement and healthcare professionals, expert witnesses, and his patients and their family members. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, upholding various evidentiary rulings and jury instructions and finding the verdict supported by substantial evidence. The court rejected an argument that the district court somehow conflated the standards for civil and criminal liability, or that it otherwise misled the jury into believing that it could find Dr. Kohli criminally liable for engaging in mere civil malpractice. View "United States v. Kohli" on Justia Law

by
Volkman, a University of Chicago M.D. and Ph.D. (pharmacology), board-certified in emergency medicine, was in financial distress after lawsuits. Hired by Tri-State, a cash-only clinic, he was paid $5,000 to $5,500 per week. Soon, pharmacies refused to fill his prescriptions, citing improper dosing. Volkman opened a dispensary in the clinic. The Ohio Board of Pharmacy issued a license, although a Glock was found in the drug safe. Follow-up inspections disclosed poorly maintained logs; that no licensed physician or pharmacist oversaw the actual dispensing process; and lax security of the drug safe. Patients returned unmarked and intermixed medication. The dispensary did a heavy business in oxycodone. A federal investigation revealed a chaotic, unclean environment. Tri-State fired Volkman, who opened his own shop; 12 patients died. Volkman and Tri-State’s owners were charged with conspiring to unlawfully distribute a controlled substance, 21 U.S.C. 841(a)(1); maintaining a drug-involved premises, 21 U.S.C. 856(a)(1); unlawful distribution of a controlled substance leading to death, 21 U.S.C. 841(a)(1) and 841(b)(1)(C), and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug-trafficking crime, 18 U.S.C. 24(c). The owners accepted plea agreements and testified against Volkman, The Sixth Circuit affirmed his conviction on most counts, and a sentence of four consecutive life terms. On remand from the Supreme Court, in light of Burrage v. United States (2014), the Sixth Circuit again found the evidence of but-for causation sufficient. View "United States v. Volkman" on Justia Law

by
Chhibber, an internist, operated a walk‐in medical office on the south side of Chicago. For patients with insurance or Medicare coverage, Chhibber ordered an unusually high volume of diagnostic tests, including echocardiograms, electrocardiograms, pulmonary function tests, nerve conduction studies, carotid Doppler ultrasound scans and abdominal ultrasound scans. Chhibber owned the equipment and his staff performed the tests. He was charged with eight counts of making false statements relating to health care matters, 18 U.S.C. 1035, and eight counts of health care fraud, 18 U.S.C. 1347. The government presented witnesses who had worked for Chhibber, patients who saw him, and undercover agents who presented themselves to the Clinic as persons needing medical services. Chhibber’s former employees testified that he often ordered tests before he even arrived at the office, based on phone calls with staff. Employees performed the tests themselves with little training, and the results were not reviewed by specialists; normally, the tests were not reviewed at all. Chhibber was convicted of four counts of making false statements and five counts of health care fraud. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting challenges to evidentiary rulings.View "United States v. Chhibber" on Justia Law

by
In the late 1990s, people who had taken the prescription diet-drug combination Fen-Phen began suing Wyeth, claiming that the drugs caused valvular heart disease. A 2000 settlement included creation of the Fen-Phen Settlement Trust to compensate class members who had sustained heart damage. Claims required medical evidence. Attorneys who represented certain claimants retained Tai, a board-certified Level 2-qualified cardiologist, to read tests and prepare reports. Tai read 12,000 tests and asserted that he was owed $2 million dollars for his services. Tai later acknowledged that in about 10% of the cases, he dictated reports consistent with the technicians’ reports despite knowing that the measurements were wrong, and that he had his technician and office manager review about 1,000 of the tests because he did not have enough time to do the work. A review of the forms Tai submitted found that, in a substantial number of cases, the measurements were clearly incorrect and were actually inconsistent with a human adult heart. Tai was convicted of mail and wire fraud, 18 U.S.C. 1341 and 1343, was sentenced to 72 months’ imprisonment, and was ordered to pay restitution of $4,579,663 and a fine of $15,000. The Third Circuit rejected arguments that the court erred by implicitly shifting the burden of proof in its “willful blindness” jury instruction and applying upward adjustments under the advisory Sentencing Guidelines for abuse of a position of trust and use of a special skill, but remanded for factual findings concerning whether Tai supervised a criminally culpable subordinate, as required for an aggravated role enhancement. View "United States v. Tai" on Justia Law

by
Nancy and Lester's Kentucky pain-management clinic closed after the DEA confiscated the doctor’s license for overprescribing narcotics. They then opened two clinics in Ohio. Patients would arrive before they opened, filling the parking lot, where they used drugs and traded prescription forms. Patients often traveled long distances (in groups), although most lived closer to other clinics. After paying their $150 appointment fee (cash only), patients would meet an “assessor” who would review their “day sheet” and provide a completed prescription form for hydrocodone, oxycodone, or other pain medication. Staff completed day sheets and prescription forms in advance. Patients then met the doctor for a minute. About 100 people per day completed this “five minute” process. The clinics also treated phantom patients. Nancy supervised the updating of files for people who had never visited the clinics. The doctor would sign prescriptions for phantom patients, staff would fill the prescriptions, and the pain pills were sold on the street by a Sadler relative. The clinics ordered drugs directly from pharmaceutical companies, but never obtained a license to dispense controlled substances. The Sadlers were convicted of conspiring to distribute controlled substances illegally and maintaining a premises for distributing the substances; Nancy was also convicted of wire fraud and money laundering. The district court sentenced Lester to 151 months and Nancy to 210 months. The Sixth Circuit vacated the wire fraud conviction, but otherwise affirmed. Nancy may have had many bad motives in buying the pills, but unfairly depriving the distributors of their property was not among them; she ordered pills and paid the asking price. View "United States v. Sadler" on Justia Law

by
Volkman, an M.D. and a Ph.D. in pharmacology from University of Chicago, was board-certified in emergency medicine and a “diplomat” of the American Academy of Pain Management. Following lawsuits, he had no malpractice insurance and no job. Hired by Tri-State, a cash-only clinic with 18-20 patients per day, he was paid $5,000 to $5,500 per week. After a few months, pharmacies refused to fill his prescriptions, citing improper dosing. Volkman opened a dispensary in the clinic. The Ohio Board of Pharmacy issued a license, although a Glock was found in the safe where the drugs were stored. Follow-up inspections disclosed poorly maintained dispensary logs; that no licensed physician or pharmacist oversaw the actual dispensing process; and lax security of the drug safe. Patients returned unmarked and intermixed medication. The dispensary did a heavy business in oxycodone. A federal investigation revealed a chaotic environment. Cup filled with urine were scattered on the floor. The clinic lacked essential equipment. Pills were strewn throughout the premises. Months later, the owners fired Volkman, so he opened his own shop. Twelve of Volkman’s patients died. Volkman and the Tri-State owners were charged with conspiring to unlawfully distribute a controlled substance, 21 U.S.C. 841(a)(1); maintaining a drug-involved premises, 21 U.S.C. 856(a)(1); unlawful distribution of a controlled substance leading to death, 21 U.S.C. 841(a)(1) and 841(b)(1)(C), and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug-trafficking crime, 18 U.S.C. 24(c)(1) and (2). The owners accepted plea agreements and testified against Volkman, leading to his conviction on most counts, and a sentence of four consecutive terms of life imprisonment. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. View "United States v. Volkman" on Justia Law

by
Defendant, a medical doctor, was convicted of distributing fentanyl, a Schedule II narcotic controlled substance, 21 U.S.C. 841(a)(1) and obtaining morphine by misrepresentation, fraud, and deception, 21 U.S.C. 843(a)(3) and was sentenced to 48 months. The Seventh Circuit affirmed.The government was not required to present expert testimony, in light of overwhelming evidence of defendant's unprecedented and undocumented prescriptions of profoundly addicting and potent painkillers, which he personally administered in multiple, private houses and hotel rooms The district court properly enhanced his sentence for obstruction of justice because defendant lied to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents.View "United States v. Pellmann" on Justia Law