There are many ways to bilk our nation’s health insurance programs out of money. All of them are reprehensible. It goes without saying that health care fraud is a crime that has many victims. When medical professionals take advantage of Medicare and Medicaid by submitting phony bills, it robs everyone who has every paid into their plans. Not to mention, many doctors with criminal intentions knowingly hurt their patients in the process.
In last week’s blog, we discussed the recent sentencing of Dr. Jorge Zamora-Quezada. He was found guilty of knowingly falsely diagnosing his patients with rheumatic diseases. Among many other things, his actions were characterized as “heinous”. In this week’s blog, we’ll discuss the actions of Dr. Egisto Salerno. The San Diego-based physician didn’t misdiagnose his patients. He wrote bogus prescriptions for them when they were already dead.
Salerno illegally distributed hydrocodone pills.
As reported by the Southern District of California branch of the United States Department of Justice, this past Tuesday, Salerno pleaded guilty to opioid distribution. The 75 year-old “illegally distributed 78,544 hydrocodone pills and admitted that his prescriptions for the 10 mg tablets were outside the usual course of his medical practice and were without a legitimate medical purpose.”
In addition, he admitted that many of his bogus prescriptions were for multiple deceased or incarcerated patients. According to the DoJ report, Salerno also admitted that an undercover federal agent visited his clinic on six separate occasions and received six hydrocodone prescriptions containing his signature.
“In a separate instance, on a date when the undercover agent did not visit the clinic and the doctor did not see him, Salerno acknowledged that a prescription was written in the name used by the undercover agent and that Salerno completed and signed a progress note in the ‘patient’ chart for the purported visit that did not occur,” details the DoJ.
Salerno’s criminal activities took place between November 2014 and February 2018.
In his plea agreement, he admits that, at his San Diego-based medical practice, he pre-signed prescriptions and often allowed his non-physician employees to complete those prescriptions. His signature appeared on at least five prescriptions there were made out in the names of dead patients. The patient names were issued and filled more than a year after the patient died.
According to the DoJ, Salerno’s guilty plea is the seventh in connection with a pending case based on the investigation of a “pill mill.” Each defendant is currently awaiting sentencing.
“The plea agreements of the six other defendants show that paid patient ‘recruiters’ were bringing ‘patients,’ many of whom were homeless, to Salerno’s office to secure hydrocodone prescriptions,” details the report, “‘Patients’ turned over their hydrocodone tablets to the recruiters in exchange for payment and, in some instances, recruiters picked up the tablets from the pharmacies themselves.”
Eventually, those hydrocodone pills were sold by the lead recruiter in San Diego. They were later smuggled into Mexico and sold to a pharmacy there.
Are you an attorney who is currently trying a health care fraud case?
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