Neurologist found guilty in $150M fraud scheme alongside 3 other physicians

Angie Stewart -   Print  | Email

A federal jury convicted neurologist Mohammed Zahoor, MD, and three other physicians of participating in a $150 million healthcare fraud scheme, the Department of Justice announced Feb. 4.

The four-week trial also culminated in convictions for Michigan pulmonologist Tariq Omar, MD, and emergency medicine specialists Spilios Pappas, MD, and Joseph Betro, DO, of Ohio and Michigan, respectively.

While working at several Tri-County Group medical clinics in Michigan and Ohio from 2008-16, Drs. Zahoor, Omar, Pappas and Betro allegedly required patients to receive expensive, medically unnecessary services such as facet joint injections and urinary drug screens in order to obtain prescriptions for opioids, benzodiazepines and other narcotics.

Patients who told the physicians they didn't "want, need or benefit from" the expensive, unnecessary injections were denied prescriptions until they agreed to have them.

The defendants prescribed over 6.6 million doses of opioids and regularly offered patients 30 milligrams of oxycodone, a dosage only deemed suitable for terminally ill cancer patients. Some of their patients suffered from legitimate pain, and others were drug dealers or opioid addicts. In certain cases, the unnecessary shots made patients' pain worse or led to adverse conditions, including open holes in the back.

In an "assembly line" type operation, the four physicians would see dozens of patients during shifts ranging from two to four hours, prosecutors said. The defendants were paid up to $3,500 an hour by falsely representing medical necessity and exaggerating time spent with patients on Medicare claims.

The physicians were also involved in a scheme to send urine tests for every patient to National Laboratories, a business owned by a co-conspirator, in exchange for tens of thousands of dollars in illegal kickbacks.

The physicians' sentencing hearings are scheduled for July. Each was found guilty of one count of healthcare fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit healthcare fraud and wire fraud. Previously, 17 other defendants, including eight physicians, pleaded guilty in connection with the case.

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