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Statesboro pharmacy settles over alleged violations
Employee theft led to federal inquiry
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Alleged employee theft of drugs led to a Statesboro pharmacy recently settling with the United States government regarding accusations of violating the Controlled Substances Act, said Lehman Franklin, attorney representing the owners of Medical Center Pharmacies in Statesboro.

An investigation and audit by the federal Drug Enforcement Agency and the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Georgia began after pharmacy owners reported the theft and agents found a number of medications unaccounted for, Franklin said.

The $85,000 settlement, announced Friday by the United States Department of Justice, was “to avoid extensive litigation,” Franklin said. “The settlement is not an admission of guilt.”

The owners, Jamie Neville and Walter Pease, “did nothing of a criminal nature,” Franklin said. “They are the victims.”

The employee, who Franklin said has not yet been charged with a crime, was terminated and charges from the Ogeechee Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s office may be pending, he said. The employee was not identified, as he or she has not yet been charged.

According to a statement released Friday by the US Department of Justice, the civil action taken against Medical Center Pharmacies was due to the business “and certain pharmacists (employed by the company) negligently failing to make, keep, or furnish certain records regarding highly addictive Schedule II controlled substances, including opioids, as required by federal law.”

Medical Center Pharmacies was one of several businesses and individuals across the country targeted by the action, which the DOJ statement said was the “largest ever health care fraud enforcement action by the Medicare Fraud Strike Force.”

 

Atlantic Foot & Ankle

Another business with Statesboro connections, Atlantic Foot & Ankle, P.C., was also involved in the actions taken, the statement said. The business has offices in Statesboro, Hinesville, Pooler, Hardeeville, S.C., and two offices in Savannah.

“The United States intervened for the purposes of civil settlement in a ‘qui tam’ filed against Atlantic Foot & Ankle, P.C., a physician practice previously operating out of several locations in Georgia, as well as an owner of the practice, Melissa Robitaille, D.P.M.,” the statement read.

Qui tam lawsuits are a type of civil lawsuit whistleblowers bring under the False Claims Act, a law that rewards whistleblowers if their qui tam cases recover funds for the government, according to www.google.com.

It was unclear Friday whether the Statesboro office is directly involved in the case.

“The United States contended that Atlantic Foot & Ankle and Dr. Robitaille submitted claims and received payment for services that did not qualify for payment by misrepresenting the services actually rendered,” the release read.

 

Nationwide enforcement

The nationwide, federal enforcement effort involved 412 charged defendants across 41 federal districts, including 115 doctors, nurses and other licensed medical professionals, for “alleged participation in health care fraud schemes involving approximately $1.3 billion in false billings,” according to the release.

Of those charged, more than120 defendants, including doctors, were charged for their roles in prescribing and distributing opioids and other dangerous narcotics.   

The Department of Justice’s nationwide enforcement actions were led and coordinated by the Criminal Division, Fraud Section’s Health Care Fraud Unit in conjunction with its Medicare Fraud Strike Force partners, a partnership between the Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney’s Offices, the FBI and HHS-OIG. 

In addition, the operation includes the participation of the DEA, DCIS, and State Medicaid Fraud Control Units.  Thirty state Medicaid Fraud Control Units also participated.  The operation focused on unlawful distribution of prescription narcotics, like opioids, and holding medical professionals responsible accountable for their wrongdoing. 

Other enforcement actions involved businesses and individuals from Augusta, Lyons, Vidalia, and Rhine, Georgia.

“The office will continue to hold accountable those who take advantage of federal health care programs and those who fail to act responsibly when prescribing or safeguarding opioids,” said Acting United States Attorney James Durham.  “Any such fraudsters or hucksters should steer clear of our district, or else expect to face jail time and substantial financial penalties for their acts.”

Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr said: “Through our Medicaid Fraud Control Unit, our office will continue coordinating with federal partners to safeguard the integrity of Georgia’s Medicaid program. Improper billing inflates costs and causes unnecessary waste in our healthcare system, and we remain dedicated to seeking out and eliminating these issues on behalf of our citizens.”

The release said the settlements and other actions are not convictions.

“A complaint, information or indictment is merely an allegation, and all defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty. The claims resolved by civil settlements are allegations only; there has been no determination of liability. Investigations remain ongoing as to others arising out of these announced actions,” the statement read.

 

Herald reporter Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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