TAMPA — A Pinellas County doctor and two Pasco County marketing company executives were sentenced this week to federal prison for their roles in a conspiracy to profit from prescriptions for pain creams billed to the U.S. military’s Tricare health service.
On Tuesday, Dr. Anthony Baldizzi, 56, of Treasure Island was sentenced to a year and a day in federal prison. Baldizzi, who had pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit health care fraud and one count of receiving kickbacks, also was ordered to forfeit $100,000, including a BMW that he had received. Prosecutors said he will give up his medical license in January.
On Wednesday, the owners of the Wesley Chapel-based marketing firm Centurion Compounding — Frank Vincent Monte, 40, of Valrico and Kimberley Sue Anderson, 52, of New Port Richey — were sentenced to 24 months and 18 months in federal prison, respectively.
Monte and Anderson, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy in September, also forfeited more than $3 million in property and luxury vehicles, including a Lamborghini, a Porsche, a Ferrari, a Ford GT racing car, a McLaren and a Mercedes.
During 2014 and 2015, Centurion Compounding worked with the owners of the now-closed Lifecare Pharmacy on 13th Avenue N in St. Petersburg, according to court pleadings.
Centurion recruited the patients, among them patients who lived or worked at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa. Baldizzi wrote prescriptions for pain and scar-healing creams that typically cost $900 to $21,000 for a one-month supply.
Lifecare processed the scripts. From May to November 2014, prosecutors said, LifeCare billed Tricare and other health insurers more than $12.4 million for compounded cream prescriptions written by Baldizzi and marketed by Centurion. Those billings generated more than $10 million in profits.
The agreed-upon split of profits from the conspiracy was 45 percent each to Lifecare and Centurion and 10 percent to Baldizzi, who also received a new $72,900 BMW M3.
In memos to judges, defense attorneys emphasized that each of their clients had little or no criminal record before this case and that all had a history of working hard to support their families, in some cases despite childhoods marked by poverty, abuse or both.
Baldizzi got involved through Carlos Mazariegos, one of the pharmacists at LifeCare. Apart from the BMW, he received about $28,100, a relatively small amount compared to what the other defendants were paid, according to his attorneys, Latour Lafferty and David Lisko. He is “greatly remorseful,” they said. Prosecutors acknowledged that Baldizzi provided “critical information,” including 30,000 text messages and emails, that helped them charge Centurion’s owners.
“An absolute aberration,” Lafferty and Lisko said in a pre-sentence memo. “Dr. Baldizzi likely would never have engaged in legal conduct but for his close personal friendship with Mazariegos.”
Monte and Anderson started out with a company set up to sell annuities and life insurance, but got interested in pharmacy referrals after a work acquaintance brought up the idea, their attorneys said. They consulted lawyers at length and believed the prescription business would be “perfectly legal,” so much so that when they had a dispute over commissions, they sued to enforce their contract with LifeCare. Later, when a different attorney advised them to stop doing business, they did.
“This behavior was an anomaly for Mr. Monte that will never be repeated,” attorneys Richard Escobar and Lyann Goudie said in a pre-sentence memo.
Moreover, while the government described what happened as stealing from Tricare, Monte’s lawyers contended “that is not the case.” Rather, they said Baldizzi wrote “legitimate prescriptions for real patients," and Monte and his business partner “had nothing to do” with the pricing of the drugs or how the prescriptions were submitted for approval by Tricare.
Anderson believed that Baldizzi was the “in-house” doctor for and an employee of LifeCare, not someone who was getting illegal kickbacks, her attorney said.
“Anderson and Monte were not the masterminds behind this operation,” her attorney, Bryant Camareno, wrote in a memo to the court. Rather, it was LifeCare’s owners who “benefited the most.”
In total, prosecutors said, Centurion caused Tricare to be billed more than $50 million for creams prescribed to patients it had recruited. Centurion closed after federal agents served a search warrant in early 2015, and authorities arranged for the repayment or reversal of more than $48 million in claims to Tricare.
Lifecare owners Mazariegos and Benjamin Nundy pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit health care fraud.
In October, Mazariegos, 42, of Palm Harbor was sentenced to a year and a day in federal prison. His attorney said he began cooperating with authorities soon after receiving a grand jury subpoena.
In November, Nundy, 42, of Ruskin was sentenced to five years of probation. While he accepted responsibility for his actions, his attorney noted that the year before the scheme, Nundy separated from his wife and his house burned down. Afterward, he suffered a “lapse in judgment” and started “to pay less attention to the business operations of the pharmacy," attorney David Weinstein told the court.
Mazariegos and Nundy also paid more than $6.4 million in restitution. Neither is a licensed pharmacist anymore, prosecutors said.