An Orange County pharmacist was convicted of 22 federal charges for her role in a healthcare fraud scheme that involved filling more than 1,000 bogus prescriptions for compounded medications, costing the U.S. military more than $11 million in losses.
Sandy Mai Trang Nguyen, 42, the pharmacist-in-charge of the now-defunct Irvine Wellness Pharmacy, was found guilty of 21 counts of healthcare fraud and one count of obstruction of a federal audit, by a jury on Tuesday, Nov. 22, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
In 2014 and 2015, prescriptions for pain, scarring and migraines were filled that Tricare, the military healthcare plan, reimbursed for tens of thousands of dollars per prescription. Compounded drugs are medication not approved by the Food and Drug Administration that can be tailored by doctors for patients.
Most of those prescriptions were sent to the pharmacy by marketers who were paid kickbacks of upward of 50% of the Tricare reimbursements, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
Some of the illegal kickbacks to the marketers were concealed by making it appear that Irvine Wellness had employed them as salaried employees. In reality, the marketers were self-employed and based across the country, according to Cirian McEvoy, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Some of the kickbacks were disguised as payments to corporations and “shell entities” for “marketing research” when in fact no research had been sought or conducted, prosecutors alleged in an indictment against Nguyen and three co-defendants in a 2019 indictment.
Patients were asked to provide their Tricare insurance information for medications they did not need, and most were never examined by a physician, according to court documents.
The prescriptions were electronically sent from marketers or telemedicine businesses and submitted by the pharmacy for reimbursement despite Tricare rules excluding reimbursements for claims based on telemedicine visits.
Nguyen is scheduled to be sentenced on April 3. She faces a statutory maximum sentence of 10 years in federal prison for each health care fraud count, and five years for the audit-obstruction count.
“We are understandably disappointed with the result but respect the court and jury and intend to raise multiple issues on appeal before the Ninth Circuit,” said Michael Khouri, Nguyen’s attorney.
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