There are many different ways to manipulate the health care system for financial gain – and none of them are morally or legally acceptable. However, some schemes are considerably more unscrupulous than others. Earlier this week, the Southern District of California branch of the United States Department of Justice reported that a doctor and seven of his cohorts have been charged with running a “pill mill” operation – one that took advantage of both the homeless and the deceased!
As the report details, 73 year-old Egisto Salerno is a medical doctor who owns and operates a medical office in San Diego, California. Along with his co-conspirators, Salerno devised a scheme to coerce homeless and other downtrodden individuals to pose as patients in his office. The objective was to maximize the number of office visit fees he received for each “patient”.
The scheme also intended to profit from illegal sales of hydrocodone.
According to the report, Salerno commonly prescribed hydrocodone to these phony patients of his. “Hydrocodone is the generic name for a narcotic analgesic that is sold under a variety of brand names such as Vicodin, Norco and Lortab,” explains the report. When legally prescribed by doctors, the drug’s intention is to minimize pain. It is, however, widely used on the street for both profit and abuse and is therefore, considered a Schedule II controlled substance (narcotic).
The charges against Salerno and his crew of schemers allege that in and around November 2014, they began to recruit people to pretend to be patients. Salerno would perform no examinations before prescribing the hydrocodone. None of the phony patients had any legitimate requirements of the drug. Instead, they were paid to turn the hydrocodone tablets over to Salerno’s recruiters.
Among them is 57 year-old Stephen Toney. He and the other co-conspirators intended to further distribute the hydrocodone tablets. But it gets worse. Salerno and his team didn’t just manipulate poverty-stricken individuals. They targeted the dead as well. The report notes that Salerno is alleged to have prescribed hydrocodone to people who were either deceased on in jail!
Prescriptions were even written for someone a year after he died.
Naturally, it would have been impossible for any of these individuals to have been in Salerno’s office at the time their hydrocodone prescriptions were written. “For example, one patient died in October 2015 and Salerno allegedly saw that patient and prescribed hydrocodone in that patient’s name five times after death, including two prescriptions written more than a year after the death,” the report explains.
To justify his bogus prescriptions, Salerno and two medical assistants apparently falsified chart notes and medical records. One such chart belonged to an undercover agent who visited the clinic. Seized during the execution of a search warrant, the chart included several medical examination notes in Salerno’s handwriting for a visit that never took place. As expected, hydrocodone tablets were prescribed in the name of the undercover agent. They were picked up from the pharmacy by Toney.
It’s no secret that the Allegiant Experts team takes any form of health care fraud very seriously. If you’re an attorney, please don’t hesitate to contact us to learn more about how our clinical expertise can assist you in your health care fraud case. Call us at 407-217-5831 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.