7 Arrested, Charged In Detroit-Area Home Health Care Fraud Takedown

January 18, 2013

January 17, 2013; U.S. Department of Justice

Seven Arrested, Charged with $22 Million Detroit-area Home Health Care Fraud Scheme

Six Detroit-area residents and one Chicago-area resident were arrested on January 17, 2012 by federal agents on charges arising from the ongoing investigation into an alleged $22 million home health care fraud scheme that the indictment charges operated out of four Oakland County, Michigan home health agencies claiming to provide in-home health service, Royal Home Health Care Inc., Prestige Home Health Services Inc., Platinum Home Health Services Inc. and Empirical Home Health Care Inc. (the “Agencies”).  The defendants arrested are Detroit-area residents Muhammad Aamir, Usman Butt, Hemal Bhagat, Syed Shah, Tariq Tahir, and Raquel Ellington, and Chicago-area resident Tayyab Aziz (the “Defendants”).

According to the Justice Department, the arrests and Medicare payment suspensions stem from charges brought in an 18-count indictment returned January 15, 2013, which alleges that the Defendants participated in a Medicare fraud scheme operating out of the Agencies. The indictment alleges Medicare paid the agencies approximately $22 million for fraudulently reported services since August 2008. See Aamir, Muhammed et al. (Prestige) Indictment.  In addition to the arrests, law enforcement agents suspended Medicare payments to the Agencies associated with the alleged scheme.

According to the indictment, Aamir and Butt owned and operated Prestige; Butt, Bhagat and Shah owned and operated Royal; and Aamir owned and operated Platinum and Empirical.  The indictment alleges that of the Agencies allegedly claimed to provide home health therapy services to Medicare beneficiaries that were unnecessary and/or were never performed.  The indictment also alleges that Tahir and Ellington recruited Medicare beneficiaries, paying them kickbacks for their Medicare information and signatures on documents that detailed physical therapy and/or skilled nursing services that were either never rendered or not medically necessary.  The indictment also charges Aamir, Butt, Bhagat, Shah, Tahir and Ellington with conspiring to pay kickbacks to Tahir and Ellington for their recruiting work and Butt, Bhagat, Shah and Aziz with allegedly conspiring to launder the proceeds of the scheme.

Based on the alleged conduct, the indictment charges each of the Defendants with conspiracy to commit health care fraud.  All but Aziz are also charged with health care fraud and with conspiracy to violate the Anti-Kickback Statute.  Butt, Bhagat, Shah and Aziz are additionally charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering.

A conviction on the charges is likely to carry heavy penalities.  The charges of health care fraud conspiracy and health care fraud each carry a maximum potential penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.  The charge of conspiracy to violate the Anti-Kickback Statute carries a maximum potential penalty of five years in prison and a $25,000 fine.  The charge of conspiracy to commit money laundering carries a maximum potential penalty of 20 years in prison and a $500,000 fine.
 
The arrests and indictments reflect the continuing and growing government commitment to, coordination and sophistication in the investigation and prosecution of health care crimes by health care providers in the federal war on what officials view as health care fraud.  The Obama Administration has made investigation and prosecution of health care fraud laws a key element of its strategy to manage U.S. health care program costs. Recently enacted changes in the False Claims Act and other laws are making it easier for federal prosecutors to successfully prosecute these and other health care fraud cases.

Since their inception in March 2007, the the HEAT health care fraud task force operations in nine locations have lead to charges against more than 1,480 defendants who Federal officals claim collectively have falsely billed the Medicare program for more than $4.8 billion.  In addition, the HHS Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, working in conjunction with the HHS-OIG, are taking steps to exclude and impose other remedies against health care providers that it perceives engage in fraud or other aggressive billing or other practices.These and other stepped up oversight and enforcement activities make it critical that all health industry organizations strengthen their internal controls, compliance and audit activities as well as be prepared to defend their actions against the rising tide of federal and state oversight and enforcement.

For Help With Compliance, Risk Management, Investigations, Policy Updates Or Other Needs

If you need help with HIPAA or other health industry, regulatory policy or enforcement developments, or to review or respond to these or other health care or health IT related risk management, compliance, enforcement or management concerns, the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer may be able to help.

Vice President of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section and the former Board Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, Ms. Stamer has more than 24 years experience advising health industry clients about these and other matters. Ms. Stamer has extensive experience advising and assisting health care providers, health plans, their business associates and other health industry clients to establish and administer medical privacy and other compliance and risk management policies, to health care industry investigation, enforcement and other compliance, public policy, regulatory, staffing, and other operations and risk management concerns. She regularly designs and presents HIPAA and other risk management, compliance and other training for health plans, employers, health care providers, professional associations and others.

Scheduled to serve as the scribe for the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits agency meeting with OCR, Ms. Stamer also regularly works with OCR and other agencies, publishes and speaks extensively on medical and other privacy and data security, health and managed care industry regulatory, staffing and human resources, compensation and benefits, technology, public policy, reimbursement and other operations and risk management concerns.  Her publications and insights appear in the Health Care Compliance Association, Atlantic Information Service, Bureau of National Affairs, World At Work, The Wall Street Journal, Business Insurance, the Dallas Morning News, Modern Health Care, Managed Healthcare, Health Leaders, and a many other national and local publications.   For instance, Ms. Stamer for the second year will serve as the appointed scribe for the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Agency meeting with OCR.  Her insights on HIPAA risk management and compliance often appear in medical privacy related publications of a broad range of health care, health plan and other industry publications Among others, she has conducted privacy training for the Association of State & Territorial Health Plans (ASTHO), the Los Angeles Health Department, the American Bar Association, the Health Care Compliance Association, a multitude of health industry, health plan, insurance and financial services, education, employer employee benefit and other clients, trade and professional associations and others.  You can get more information about her HIPAA and other experience here.

If you need help with these or other compliance concerns, wish to ask about arranging for compliance audit or training, or need legal representation on other matters please contact Ms. Stamer at (469) 767-8872 or via e-mail here.

You can review other recent publications and resources and additional information about the other experience of Ms. Stamer hereExamples of some recent publications that may be of interest include:

If you need help investigating or responding to a known or suspected compliance, litigation or enforcement or other risk management concern, assistance with reviewing, updating, administering or defending a current or proposed employment, employee benefit, compensation or other management practice, wish to inquire about federal or state regulatory compliance audits, risk management or training, or need legal representation on other matters please contact Ms Stamer here or at (469) 767-8872.

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 ©2013 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C. All rights reserved.


Merck To Pay $950 Million To Settle Vioxx® Off-Label Marketing Charges

November 27, 2011

American pharmaceutical company Merck, Sharp & Dohme (Merck) will pay $950 million to resolve criminal charges and civil claims related to its promotion and marketing of the painkiller Vioxx® (rofecoxib).   Merck previously withdrew Vioxx® from the market.

According to a November 23, 2011 joint announcement of the U.S. Departments of Justice (DOJ) and Health & Human Services (HHS), Merck has agreed to plead guilty to one misdemeanor count of engaging in illegal promotional activity and to a $321,636,000 criminal fine to resolve charges that its marketing of Vioxx® violated the Food Drug and Cosmetic Act (FDCA)

Concurrent with the criminal plea agreement, Merck also is entering into a civil settlement agreement under which it will pay $628,364,000 to resolve other allegations of off-label marketing of Vioxx® and false statements about the drug’s cardiovascular safety.   Of the total civil settlement, $426,389,000 will go to the United States, and the remaining share of $201,975,000 be paid to the participating Medicaid states.  The settlement and plea conclude a long-running investigation of Merck’s promotion of Vioxx®, which was withdrawn from the marketplace in September 2004.

Under the provisions of the FDCA, a company is required to specify the intended uses of a product in its new drug application to FDA.   Once approved, the drug may not be marketed or promoted for so-called “off-label” uses – any use not specified in an application and approved by FDA – unless the company applies to the FDA for approval of the additional use.   The FDA approved Vioxx® for three indications in May 1999, but did not approve its use against rheumatoid arthritis until April 2002.   In the interim, for nearly three years, Merck promoted Vioxx® for rheumatoid arthritis, conduct for which it was admonished in an FDA warning letter issued in September 2001.

Merck’s criminal plea relates to misbranding of Vioxx® by promoting the drug for treating rheumatoid arthritis, before that use was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).  

The parallel civil settlement covers a broader range of allegedly illegal conduct by Merck.   The settlement resolves allegations that Merck representatives   made inaccurate, unsupported, or misleading statements about Vioxx’s cardiovascular safety in order to increase sales of the drug, resulting in payments by the federal government.   It also resolves allegations that Merck made false statements to state Medicaid agencies about the cardiovascular safety of Vioxx, and that those agencies relied on Merck’s false claims in making payment decisions about the drug.   Finally, like the criminal plea, the civil settlement also recovers damages for allegedly false claims caused by Merck’s unlawful promotion of Vioxx for rheumatoid arthritis.

As part of the settlement, Merck has also agreed to enter into an expansive corporate integrity agreement with the Office of Inspector General of HHS that requires it to strengthen the system of reviews and oversight procedures imposed on the company to deter and detect similar conduct in the future with respect to Merck products regulated by the FDA.

The Merck plea agreement and civil resolution agreement show the continuing commitment of DOJ and other federal regulators to investigate and prosecute off-label and other marketing of pharmaceutical products in violation of applicable federal laws.  Pharmaceutical companies and members of their workforce should heed the announcement as another reminder of the need to exercise continuing diligence to comply with these requirements.

For Help With Compliance, Investigations Or Other Needs

If you need assistance providing compliance or other training, reviewing or responding to these or other health care related risk management, compliance, enforcement or management concerns, the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, may be able to help. Vice President of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section and the former Board Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, Ms. Stamer has more than 24 years experience advising health industry clients about these and other matters. Ms. Stamer has extensive experience advising and assisting health care providers and other health industry clients to establish and administer medical privacy and other compliance and risk management policies, to health care industry investigation, enforcement and other compliance, public policy, regulatory, staffing, and other operations and risk management concerns. A popular lecturer and widely published author on health industry concerns, Ms. Stamer continuously advises health industry clients about compliance and internal controls, workforce and medical staff performance, quality, governance, reimbursement, and other risk management and operational matters. Ms. Stamer also publishes and speaks extensively on health and managed care industry regulatory, staffing and human resources, compensation and benefits, technology, public policy, reimbursement and other operations and risk management concerns/ She also regularly designs and presents risk management, compliance and other training for health care providers, professional associations and others.   Her publications and insights appear in the Health Care Compliance Association, Atlantic Information Service, Bureau of National Affairs, World At Work, The Wall Street Journal, Business Insurance, the Dallas Morning News, Modern Health Care, Managed Healthcare, Health Leaders, and a many other national and local publications.  You can get more information about her health industry experience here. If you need assistance with these or other compliance concerns, wish to inquire about arranging for compliance audit or training, or need legal representation on other matters please contact Ms. Stamer at (469) 767-8872 or via e-mail here.

About Solutions Law Press

Solutions Law Press™ provides business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other resources, training and education on human resources, employee benefits, compensation, data security and privacy, health care, insurance, and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and other key operational concerns. If you find this of interest, you also be interested reviewing some of our other Solutions Law Press resources including:

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail – by creating or updating your profile here. For important information concerning this communication click here. 

THE FOLLOWING DISCLAIMER IS INCLUDED TO COMPLY WITH AND IN RESPONSE TO U.S. TREASURY DEPARTMENT CIRCULAR 230 REGULATIONS.  ANY STATEMENTS CONTAINED HEREIN ARE NOT INTENDED OR WRITTEN BY THE WRITER TO BE USED, AND NOTHING CONTAINED HEREIN CAN BE USED BY YOU OR ANY OTHER PERSON, FOR THE PURPOSE OF (1) AVOIDING PENALTIES THAT MAY BE IMPOSED UNDER FEDERAL TAX LAW, OR (2) PROMOTING, MARKETING OR RECOMMENDING TO ANOTHER PARTY ANY TAX-RELATED TRANSACTION OR MATTER ADDRESSED HEREIN.

©2011 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C.  Non-exclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press.  All other rights reserved.


Pfizer To Pay $2.3 Billion For Fraudulent Marketing In Largest DOJ Health Care Fraud Settlement

September 2, 2009

Announcement Highlights Growing Fraud Prosecution Risks of Health Industry Businesses

Today’s announcement that Pfizer Inc. and its subsidiary Pharmacia & Upjohn Company Inc. (collectively “Pfizer”) will pay $2.3 billion, the largest health care fraud settlement in the history of the Department of Justice, to resolve criminal and civil liability for alleged illegal promotion of certain pharmaceutical products and other stepped up oversight and enforcement activities make it critical that all health industry organizations strengthen their internal controls, compliance and audit activities as well as be prepared to defend their actions against the rising tide of federal and state oversight and enforcement.

The pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc. and its subsidiary Pharmacia & Upjohn Company Inc. have agreed to pay $2.3 billion, the largest health care fraud settlement in the history of the Department of Justice, to resolve criminal and civil liability arising from the alleged illegal promotion of certain pharmaceutical products, the Justice Department (DOJ) announced today (September 2, 2009).

According to DOJ, Pharmacia & Upjohn Company agreed to plead guilty to a felony violation of the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act for misbranding Bextra with the intent to defraud or mislead.  Bextra is an anti-inflammatory drug that Pfizer pulled from the market in 2005. 

The Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act requires that a company specify the intended uses of a product in its new drug application to FDA.  Once approved, the drug may not be marketed or promoted for so-called “off-label” uses – i.e., any use not specified in an application and approved by FDA.  DOJ charged Pfizer promoted the sale of Bextra for several uses and dosages that the FDA specifically declined to approve due to safety concerns.  Under the announced settlement, Pfizer will pay a criminal fine of $1.195 billion, the largest criminal fine ever imposed in the United States for any matter.  Pharmacia & Upjohn will also forfeit $105 million, for a total criminal resolution of $1.3 billion.

In addition, Pfizer agreed to pay $1 billion to resolve allegations under the civil False Claims Act that the company illegally promoted four drugs – Bextra; Geodon, an anti-psychotic drug; Zyvox, an antibiotic; and Lyrica, an anti-epileptic drug – and caused false claims to be submitted to government health care programs for uses that were not medically accepted indications and therefore not covered by those programs.  The civil settlement also resolves allegations that Pfizer paid kickbacks to health care providers to induce them to prescribe these, as well as other, drugs.  The federal share of the civil settlement is $668,514,830 and the state Medicaid share of the civil settlement is $331,485,170.  This is the largest civil fraud settlement in history against a pharmaceutical company.

As part of the settlement, Pfizer also has agreed to enter into an expansive corporate integrity agreement with the Office of Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services.  That agreement provides for procedures and reviews to be put in place to avoid and promptly detect conduct similar to that which gave rise to this matter.

Whistleblower lawsuits filed under the qui tam provisions of the False Claims Act that are pending in the District of Massachusetts, the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and the Eastern District of Kentucky triggered this investigation.  As a part of today’s resolution, six whistleblowers will receive payments totaling more than $102 million from the federal share of the civil recovery.

Today’s announcement of this historic settlement emphasizes the continuing and growing government commitment to, coordination and sophistication in the investigation and prosecution of health care crimes by pharmaceutical industry and other health care providers.  The Obama Administration has made investigation and prosecution of health care fraud laws a key element of its strategy to manage U.S. health care program costs. Recently enacted changes in the False Claims Act and other laws are making it easier for federal prosecutors to successfully prosecute these and other health care fraud cases.

The enhanced coordination among agencies central to this strategy is reflected in the collaboration among the many agencies involved in the investigation leading to these charges. The U.S. Attorney’s offices for the District of Massachusetts, the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, and the Eastern District of Kentucky, and the Civil Division of the Department of Justice handled these cases.  The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts led the criminal investigation of Bextra.  The investigation was conducted by the Office of Inspector General for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the FBI, the Defense Criminal Investigative Service (DCIS), the Office of Criminal Investigations for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Veterans’ Administration’s (VA) Office of Criminal Investigations, the Office of the Inspector General for the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), the Office of the Inspector General for the United States Postal Service (USPS), the National Association of Medicaid Fraud Control Units and the offices of various state Attorneys General.

These and other stepped up oversight and enforcement activities make it critical that all health industry organizations strengthen their internal controls, compliance and audit activities as well as be prepared to defend their actions against the rising tide of federal and state oversight and enforcement.

Register Now For Upcoming September Health Industry Update Programs

If you found this information of interest, you also may be interested in one of the following upcoming health industry programs to be presented by Ms. Stamer during September:

  • HITECH ACT Health Data Security & Breach Update on September 9, 2009 hosted live or via teleconference by Curran Tomko Tarski LLP 
  • How to Ensure That Your Organization Is In Compliance With Regulations Governing Discrimination — What You Should Be Doing To Be Prepared for the New, Stepped Up Enforcement Actions on September 10, 2009 hosted via teleconference by Health Resources Publishing
  • Health Information Security & Data Breach Under HITECH Act on September 17, 2009 hosted via teleconference by the Health Care Compliance Association

To register or for other details about these and other upcoming programs and presentations by Ms. Stamer and other Curran Tomko Tarski members, see here.

Other Recent Developments

If you found this information of interest, you also may be interested in reviewing some of the following recent Curran Tomko Tarski LLP Latest in Health Care Updates available online by clicking on the article title:

For More Information

We hope that this information is useful to you.  If you need assistance with auditing or defending health care fraud concerns or other health care compliance, risk management, transaction or operation concerns, please contact the author of this update, Curran Tomko Tarski LLP Health Practice Group Chair, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, at (214) 270‑2402, cstamer@cttlegal.com, Edwin J. Tomko at (214) 270-1405 or another Curran Tomko Tarski LLP Partner of your choice. Ms. Stamer has extensive experience advising clients and writes and speaks extensively on these and other health industry and other internal controls and risk management matters. 

You can review other recent health care and internal controls resources and additional information about the health industry and other experience of Ms. Stamer here.  If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail – by creating or updating your profile at here or e-mailing this information to cstamer@cttlegal.com.

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail – by creating or updating your profile at here or e-mailing this information here.  To unsubscribe, e-mail here.

©2009 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.  All rights reserved.


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