Several Macomb County residents, including two from nearby Shelby Township, face charges in a far-reaching health care fraud and drug-distribution scheme, according to federal authorities.
In total 44 new defendants were charged in a 13-count indictment that alleges drug conspiracy involving prescriptions like Oxycontin, Opana, Vicodin, and other drugs. Those charges announced Wednesday come on the heels of raids conducted earlier this week in Clinton Township and Canton.
Following the searches, United States Attorney Barbara L. McQuade announced Tuesday 13 defendants—among them five doctors including Richard Utarnachitt, 71 of Clinton Township, four pharmacists and one home health agency owner— were named in a superseding indictment.
The charges are related to a 2011 federal case in which Canton pharmacist Babubhai (Bob) Patel was charged with overseeing a massive health care fraud and drug distribution ring at more than 20 pharmacies he owned and controlled in Metro Detroit. The most recently announced individuals charged include Atrium pharmacist Krina Patel, 35, of Shelby Township and office manager Sanjay Patel, 39, of Shelby Township, the U.S. Attorney's Office states in a news release.
"The superseding indictment alleges that Sardar Ashrafkhan, Deepak Kumar, John Check, and David Vezzossi, owners of home health agencies, would provide kickbacks, bribes, and other illegal benefits to physicians to induce them to write prescriptions for patients with Medicare, Medicaid, and private insurance," according to the release.
"Patients were recruited into the scheme by patient recruiters or 'marketers,' who would pay kickbacks and bribes to patients in exchange for the patients’ permitting the pharmacies and physicians to bill their insurance for medications and services that were medically unnecessary and/or never provided."
It's alleged that prescriptions were then given to Sav-Max pharmacist Ahab Elmadhoun of Canton, Sav-Mart pharmacist Waleed Yaghmour of Dearborn, Atrium pharmacist Krina Patel and manager Sanjay Patel or Caremax pharmacist Jayshriben Gandhi and manager Guarang Gandhi of Canton for filing.
The medical professionals and health care agency owners would bill insurers for the supposed services. Some of the pharmacists would then allegedly bill insurers, including Medicare, Medicaid, and private insurers, for dispensing the medications, "despite the fact that the medications were medically unnecessary and, in many cases, never provided."
Other times, the pharmacists accepted cash from the recruiters for filling and dispensing the medications, authorities said.
“The merger of health care fraud and drug trafficking is a disturbing trend that is not only robbing taxpayers but also fueling addictions to prescription drugs,” McQuade said Wednesday in a prepared statement. “Prescription drug abuse has become a national epidemic, with more Americans dying from overdoses than from gunshot wounds.”
Robert L. Corso, Special Agent in Charge of DEA’s Detroit Field Division stated, “Confronting the illegal diversion and abuse of controlled pharmaceuticals is a top priority of DEA and our law enforcement partners. The indictment alleges that this drug distribution organization includes members of the medical profession who abused their positions of trust and endangered the lives of countless people for pure profit.
"This was done by illegally distributing opiate painkillers and other controlled prescription medications throughout southeast Michigan and stretching to the southern reaches of Ohio. This investigation makes it clear that the DEA and our partners in law enforcement will continue to investigate and bring to justice those individuals that are responsible for the illegal distribution of prescription medicines.”