Jurors find physician guilty in pharmacy fraud case
HATTIESBURG, Miss. (AP) — Jurors have found a Mississippi Gulf Coast physician accused of writing improper prescriptions guilty on all 16 counts in a multi-million dollar fraud scheme.
After hearing four days of testimony, the jury delivered the verdict late Friday against Gulfport-based Dr. Albert Diaz who was taken into custody until he has a bond hearing before a magistrate judge.
Diaz, 78, of Ocean Springs, was charged in a federal indictment alleging he was involved in scheme to defraud TRICARE out of millions of dollars. Those charges include fraud, conspiracy, conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance, distribution of a controlled substance and destruction, alteration or falsification of records in a federal investigation.
Diaz’s lawyer, John Colette, walking out of the courtroom said the verdict was very upsetting.
Sentencing will be at 9:30 a.m. May 22 at William M. Colmer Federal Courthouse in Hattiesburg before U.S. District Judge Keith Starrett.
Diaz faces up to 305 years in prison and fines up to $7.5 million.
The prosecution and defense rested after Diaz admitted on the witness stand Thursday that he was prescribing medications to patients he never saw.
The Hattiesburg American reports that prosecutors told jurors that Diaz, with the help of pharmaceutical sales representative Jay Schaar and pharmacist Jason May, prescribed an estimated $2.3 million in unnecessary medication to veterans. Charges say the prescriptions defrauded the federal military health insurance program TRICARE.
The defense argues that Diaz isn’t at fault because he never benefited financially from the scheme.
Diaz testified that when Schaar told him that VA patients had been denied medication by other doctors, he wanted to help the patients. With Schaar’s help, he prescribed pain creams to patients he never met and later falsified records to appear that he had.
Only after Diaz learned that he was being audited did he visit the patients for whom he was prescribing. Over a year after Diaz had begun writing the prescriptions, Schaar and accomplice Randy Thomley took Diaz to patients’ houses for visits.
Prosecutors also showed the jury a video of Diaz and Schaar in which the two men plot what to tell investigators of their scheme. Diaz admits to writing prescriptions before meeting patients in the video and acknowledges that his actions were illegal.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the indictments in July as part of a nationwide crackdown on health care fraud.
Providers are facing dozens of charges of conspiracy, fraud, distribution of a controlled substance and destroying or falsifying records intended for a federal investigation.
Parts of the investigation have been visible since agents raided nine Mississippi pharmacies in January 2016. Prosecutors allege that three Mississippi pharmacies alone bilked $400 million from insurers.
Nurse practitioner Susan Perry will stand trial in April for her alleged role in the scheme.
May and Schaar will be sentenced at a later date.
Information from: WDAM-TV, http://www.wdam.com