Tuesday, November 13, 2018
Business

Five Tampa Bay area men charged in billion-dollar health care scheme

Five Tampa Bay area residents are wrapped up in what federal prosecutors are calling a billion-dollar telemedicine rip off.

Starting in 2015, the defendants and their pharmacy companies set up an elaborate scheme that fraudulently solicited insurance coverage information and prescriptions from tens of thousands of consumers across the country, according to a 40-page indictment. They then used the information to sell pain creams and other similar products.

Doctors approved the prescriptions not knowing that the defendants and their companies had "massively marked up the prices" of the invalidly prescribed drugs, federal prosecutors said. For instance, several of the pharmacies paid $27 for a lidocaine numbing ointment and billed up to $381, an increase of more than 1,300 percent.

To ensure the most profit, some of the defendants "directed their employees to ‘test bill’ or ‘phish’ for the highest reimbursement items," the indictment stated. "These employees routinely submitted claims ... for this purpose, contrary to one of more provider agreements."

RELATED: As corporate debt rises, so do worries about it triggering the next recession

RELATED: Learning from a spy: Business travelers train in Tampa to thwart pickpockets, kidnappings and surveillance

The scheme bilked $174 million from private health care companies, including Blue Cross Blue Shield, federal prosecutors said. In addition, the five men and their companies submitted at least $931 million in fraudulent claims.

Andrew Assad, 33, of Palm Harbor; Peter Bolos, 41 of Lutz; and Michael Palso, 44, of Odessa were indicted along with their compounding pharmacies: Synergy Pharmacy Services in Palm Harbor, and Precision Pharmacy Management in Clearwater.

MORE: Go here for more Business News

Larry Everett Smith, 48, of Pinellas Park was also indicted. He ran Tampa Bay-based Tanith Enterprises, ULD Wholesale Group, Alpha-Omega Pharmacy, and Germaine Pharmacy along with Zoetic Pharmacy in Houston,, Texas.

The defendants and their companies face a total of 32 counts. All four men were charged with mail fraud, conspiracy to commit health care fraud and introducing misbranded drugs into interstate commerce. If convicted, they face up to 20 years in prison for each mail fraud charge, up to 10 years for each conspiracy charge and up to three years for the third charge. They and their companies could also be required to forfeit up to $154 million.

Last week, all four were released on bond after appearing in a federal courtroom in Tampa’s Middle District of Florida. The indictment was filed in the Eastern District of Tennessee.

Seminole resident Scott Roix, 52, the CEO of HealthRight, has already pleaded guilty to felony conspiracy for his role in the case, according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Tennessee.

Roix also pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit wire fraud in a separate case. He used HealthRight’s telemarketing facilities to "fraudulently sell millions of dollars worth of products such as weight loss pills, skin creams and testosterone supplements through concocted claims of efficacy and intentionally deficient customer service designed to stall consumer complaints," the news release said.

While Roix faces up to 5 years in prison for each conspiracy charge, helping federal prosecutors with the case against the other men could help reduce his sentence.

Roix’s lawyer, Christopher Kise, said his client spent his life building a successful marketing business.

"HealthRight’s role here was primarily focused on the marketing aspects," said Kise, who served as solicitor general for Florida under former Gov. Charlie Crist. "While Mr. Roix certainly did not from the outset seek to engage in any unlawful conduct, once he became aware of the full nature and scope of the enterprise, he wisely chose to do the right thing for himself and his family and to accept responsibility."

Contact Graham Brink at [email protected] Follow @GrahamBrink.

Comments
Disney unveils plans for ‘Guardians of Galaxy’ coaster, high-tech robots

Disney unveils plans for ‘Guardians of Galaxy’ coaster, high-tech robots

At an amusement park industry trade show, a Disney executive hails the next generation of animatronics.
Updated: 3 minutes ago
Pinellas hotels report 6 percent dip in room sales since Red Tide hit

Pinellas hotels report 6 percent dip in room sales since Red Tide hit

Pinellas County is still on track to break its bed-tax collection record, even though Red Tide has showed little sign of letting up.
Updated: 3 hours ago
USF marks construction milestone at medical school building in Water Street Tampa

USF marks construction milestone at medical school building in Water Street Tampa

The University of South Florida and Tampa leaders Wednesday marked the "topping off," or completion of vertical construction, on the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute.
Updated: 5 hours ago

New Jersey manufacturer relocates headquarters to Seminole

S.S. White Technologies, which specializes in flexible shaft technology, moved into a 90,000 square foot facility at 8300 Sheen Drive.
Updated: 8 hours ago
Ford, Walmart test self-driving grocery delivery in South Florida

Ford, Walmart test self-driving grocery delivery in South Florida

Ford and Walmart are teaming up to test a self-driving grocery delivery service.
Updated: 11 hours ago
Chick-fil-A now offering delivery, celebrates by giving away free sandwiches

Chick-fil-A now offering delivery, celebrates by giving away free sandwiches

Chick-Fil-A will give away free classic chicken sandwiches to customers who order at least $5 worth of food from DoorDash, a delivery service.
Published: 11/14/18
These are the 'worst toys' of the holiday season

These are the 'worst toys' of the holiday season

A Black Panther "slash claw" and a plastic Power Rangers sword are among the items topping a consumer safety group's annual list of worst toys for the holiday season.
Published: 11/14/18
The Daystarter: A whole lot of suing going on in the Florida recount; why Rick Scott and Bill Nelson are smack in the middle; a Hall of Fame kind of night for Martin St. Louis

The Daystarter: A whole lot of suing going on in the Florida recount; why Rick Scott and Bill Nelson are smack in the middle; a Hall of Fame kind of night for Martin St. Louis

The Daystarter: Marc Topkin on Rays’ manager Kevin Cash falling short of the top AL manager award; Graham Brink on why Amazon just isn’t that into Tampa Bay; and Tom Jones on why the Bucs are keeping Jameis Winston on the bench.
Published: 11/14/18
Time running out for officials to reach stadium deal with Rays

Time running out for officials to reach stadium deal with Rays

With elections in the rearview mirror, focus shifts to efforts to move the Tampa Bay Rays to Ybor City.
Published: 11/13/18
Updated: 11/14/18
Dear Amazon, from Tampa Bay: Why don't you love us?

Dear Amazon, from Tampa Bay: Why don't you love us?

Seattle-based Amazon decided to open a second headquarters, splitting it between New York City and the Washington, D.C., area. Tampa Bay never had a chance.
Published: 11/13/18
Updated: 11/14/18