DETROIT - The U.S. Justice Department is calling an opioid prescription drug and health care fraud scheme the largest operation of its kind in United States history, and part of it is centered in Metro Detroit.
Officials have made 412 arrests nationwide, including 56 doctors and targeting 200 clinics. The Justice Department said those arrested are responsible for $1.3 billion in fraudulent transactions.
Federal officials said a group of Michigan doctors was responsible for a major chunk of the scheme.
One of the clinics hit in the sting operations is in Farmington. Federal officials said the opioid epidemic is part of it, but the medical office and a number of others were set up specifically as a criminal enterprise to rip off Medicare.
Federal officers raided the Fisher Building Wednesday, and U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said their work accounted for 10 percent of the scam's value.
"Six doctors in Michigan prescribed patients with unnecessary opioids, some of which ended up for sale on the streets," Sessions said.
A physician group called Global Quality used to operate out of a Woodward Avenue office building.
West Bloomfield man named ring leader
Mashiyat Rashid is accused of being the ring leader in scamming Medicare for $164 million. Rashid had no problem displaying his significant wealth on Facebook, where pictures show him standing in front of a Bentley sedan and a corporate jet. He also has pictures of himself and a friend courtside at the NBA Finals.
Local 4 visited Rashid's West Bloomfield home Thursday, but nobody was there. The house was large, but not a mansion.
The Drug Enforcement Agency's Tim Plancon issued a warning.
"It certainly should be a message to any rogue physician," Plancon said. "If they think they're going to get away with it, we're coming for you."
Rashid is not a doctor, but the doctors named in the case are Joseph Betro, Spilios Pappas, Abdul Haq, Tariz Omar and Mohammad Zahoor.
Federal officials indicted suspects a week ago and they've already been arraigned.
FBI responds to epidemic
"It’s obvious to anyone who picks up a newspaper or turns on the news that the nation is in the midst of a crisis," FBI Acting Director Andrew McCabe said. "Opioid abuse destroys lives and it devastates families. This week, we arrested once-trusted doctors, pharmacists, and other medical professionals who were corrupted by greed. These people inflicted a special kind of damage."
The Department of Health and Human Services began suspending 295 providers, including doctors, nurses, and pharmacists, so they can no longer participate in federal health programs like Medicare, Medicaid and TRICARE, a health insurance program for veterans and the military.
"We will use every tool we have to stop criminals from exploiting the vulnerable people and stealing our hard-earned tax dollars," Sessions said. "We are sending a clear message to criminals across this country. We will find you. We will bring you to justice, and you will pay a very high price for what you have done."
Michigan natives charged
More than 400 people across the country were charged Thursday for taking part in health care fraud and opioid scams including six Michigan doctors in connection with a raid Wednesday at the Fisher Building in Detroit.
The six Michigan defendants are:
- Mashiyat Rashid, of Oakland County – controlled, owned or operated Global Quality, Aqua Therapy, Tri-County Physicians, Tri-State Physicians, New Center Medical, National Laboratories, and Tri-County Wellness;
- Yasser Mozeb, of Oakland County – allegedly received payments from Global Quality and Tri-County Wellness;
- Abdul Haq, of Washtenaw County, physician enrolled as a participating provider with Medicare for Aqua Therapy, Tri-County Physicians and Tri-State Physicians;
- Joseph Betro, of Oakland County, physician enrolled as a participating provider with Medicare for Tri-County Physicians and New Center Medical;
- Tariz Omar, of Oakland County, physician enrolled as a participating provider with Medicare for Tri-County Physicians.
- Mohammed Zahoor, of Oakland County, physician enrolled as a participating provider with Medicare for Tri-County Physicians.
A seventh doctor, Spilios Pappas, of Lucas County, Ohio, was also charged in connection with the investigation.
The defendants are charged with five counts of health care fraud and health care fraud conspiracy. Rashid and Mozeb are charged with conspiracy to defraud the United States and pay and receive health care kickbacks. Rashid is charged with money laundering, receipt of kickbacks in connection with a federal health care program and payment of kickbacks in connection with federal health care program.
Federal authorities raided offices in the Fisher Building where National Laboratories is located in connection with the investigation.
Authorities say Rashid and his co-conspirators engaged in illegal kickbacks and billing for medically unnecessary joint injections, drug screenings and home health services.
Investigators believe Rashid’s companies’ fraudulently billed Medicare $126 million. Approximately $1.3 billion is believed to have been fraudulently billed in scams across the country.
Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette charged three people including two dentists with Medicaid fraud in connection to the massive healthcare fraud takedown.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions called the collective action the "largest health care fraud takedown operation in American history" and said it indicates that some doctors, nurses and pharmacists "have chosen to violate their oaths and put greed ahead of their patients."
'Greed overshadows patient care'
Sessions said that nearly 300 health care providers are being suspended or banned from participating in federal health care programs.
"Most individuals rely on the specialized knowledge of medical professionals to take care of their medical needs, asking for their expert help in good faith and trusting them to both help them and uphold the law," Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette said. "Unfortunately, there are individuals whose greed overshadows patient care, and it is important those individuals are found, stopped, and held accountable for their crime."
The Justice Department said the people charged were illegally billing Medicare, Medicaid, and the health insurance program that serves members of the armed forces, retired service members and their families. The allegations include claims that those charged billed the programs for unnecessary drugs that were never purchased or never given to the patients.
A Florida rehab facility is alleged to have recruited addicts with gift cards and visits to strip clubs, leading to $58 million in false treatments and tests.
Officials said those charged in the schemes include more than 120 people involved in prescribing and distributing narcotics.
"They seem oblivious to the disastrous consequences of their greed. Their actions not only enrich themselves, often at the expense of taxpayers, but also feed addictions and cause addictions to start," Sessions said.
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