7 February – LAWFUEL – The Law News Network – R. Alexander Acosta, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, David W. Bourne, Special Agent in Charge, Food and Drug Administration, Office of Criminal Investigations, Miami Field Office, Jonathan I. Solomon, Special Agent in Charge, Miami Division, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Henry Gutierrez, Inspector in Charge, Miami Division, United States Postal Inspection Service, announced today the unsealing of an eighty-four (84) count Indictment in a multi-million dollar health care fraud scheme. Charged in the Indictment are defendants Joseph Sutera, a licensed pharmacist and owner of The Medicine Shoppe, a retail pharmacy franchise located in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida; Eric Ressner, a licensed physician specializing in psychiatry; Agustin Castellanos, a licensed physician specializing in neurology; Robert Catanese, chiropractor and owner of Catanese Chiropractic Center; and Stephanie Mirante, a pharmacy technician employed by The Medicine Shoppe.
As set forth in the Indictment, between June 2001 and September 2005, the defendants conspired to commit health care fraud by submitting fraudulent prescription drug claims to more than one hundred private health insurance companies through The Medicine Shoppe for prescription medications that were either not prescribed, not requested, and/or not delivered to the patients named in the claims. During the period of the conspiracy, approximately $17,766,441.00 in prescription drug claims were made by The Medicine Shoppe to private health insurance companies, of which $9,941,761.44 was paid. A substantial amount of these funds represented payments on fraudulent prescription drug claims.
Defendant Sutera, a pharmacist, regularly used, with their knowledge and consent, Eric Ressner and Agustin Castellanos to substantiate the prescriptions of some of the fraudulent claims submitted to private health insurance companies doing business with The Medicine Shoppe. Sutera also used the names of unwitting physicians to substantiate the prescriptions of the fraudulent claims submitted to private health insurance companies.
Similarly, Sutera also used the names and health insurance information of patients who had filled legitimate prescriptions at The Medicine Shoppe to falsely substantiate the recipients of the fraudulent prescription drug claims. Other names and health insurance information were provided to Sutera by defendant Catanese, a chiropractor.
According to the charging document, a substantial number of the fraudulent claims were for a prescription cream that contained Ketamine HCL, a Schedule III controlled substance. The cream was referred to by a variety of names, including Formula II and Ketasone, and was mixed in The Medicine Shoppe by defendant Sutera..
The Indictment also alleges that Sutera laundered money obtained from the payment of fraudulent prescription claims to purchase, among other things, four residences, commercial property, numerous IRA and life insurance accounts, a Rolex watch, a Steinway piano, and over $90,000 in consumer electronics.
Defendant Ressner was also charged with money laundering for using some the fraud proceeds as partial payment on his residence. In addition, Ressner is charged with making false material statements to government agents regarding the benefit he received from defendant Sutera as part of the health care fraud scheme. Specifically, Ressner allegedly failed to disclose during two interviews with law enforcement agents that he had received from Sutera a $34,490 check for the purpose of making a down payment on his residence and additional cash payments delivered in envelopes.
Lastly, the Indictment seeks the forfeiture of approximately $9,941,761.44 in currency and property from defendant Sutera, including his residence, and $2,353,747.00 in currency and property from defendant Ressner, including his residence. These amounts represent the proceeds of the health care fraud scheme.
If convicted of the health care fraud conspiracy count, the defendants face a maximum statutory term of five (5) years’ imprisonment. If convicted of the related health care fraud counts, the defendants named in those counts face a maximum statutory sentence of ten (10) years per count. Each money laundering count is also punishable by a maximum penalty of ten (10) years in prison. If convicted of making a false statement to a government agent, defendant Ressner will face a maximum statutory term of five (5) years’ imprisonment per count.
Mr. Acosta commends the investigative efforts of the Food and Drug Administration, Office of Criminal Investigations, the Federal Bureau of Investigations and United States Postal Inspection Service. This case is being handled by Assistant United States Attorneys Carolyn Bell and Lynn Rosenthal.
A copy of this press release may be found on the website of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida at www.usdoj.gov/usao/fls. Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Southern District of Florida at www.flsd.uscourts.gov or on http://pacer.flsd.uscourts.gov.