Indictment Charges Fugitive Doctor with Health Care Fraud,
OCT 08 -- A federal grand jury has charged Tarek W. Wehbe, a physician who practiced in Rhode Island, with health care fraud, illegal distribution of controlled substances, and money laundering. A 152-count indictment also seeks the forfeiture of about $5.9 million, alleged to be the proceeds of Wehbe’s criminal activity. Wehbe, who was charged in April by a criminal complaint, is a fugitive and is believed to be in Lebanon.
Kevin L. Lane, Acting Special Agent in Charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration for New England, United States Attorney Robert Clark Corrente, Mark Dragonetti, Special Agent in Charge of the regional office of the Food and Drug Administration, Office of Criminal Investigations, Susan Waddell, Special Agent in Charge of the Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General, and Rhode Island Attorney General Patrick C. Lynch jointly announced the indictment, which the grand jury returned yesterday in U.S. District Court, Providence.
According to the indictment, Wehbe operated Renaissance Medical Group (RMG), which had offices at 1640 Mineral Spring Avenue, North Providence, and 790 North Main Street, Providence. Specializing in internal medicine and family practice, RMG served more than 8,000 patients from 2002 to 2006; Wehbe himself treated more than 4,800 patients. A significant portion of the practice was the administration of infusion therapy to treat the symptoms of such diseases as rheumatoid arthritis, various blood disorders, and certain cancers.
The indictment alleges that Wehbe routinely submitted false claims to insurance carriers for drug infusion therapies, outpatient office visits, and other patient care, alleging that he inflated the level and type of care that he had provided. For instance, he allegedly submitted claims for “extended office visits,” when in fact he’d visited with a patient only for a few minutes, just long enough to write a prescription, often for controlled substances.
The indictment also alleges that Wehbe “routinely and intentionally” submitted claims that, if correctly accounted for, would have resulted in work days of more than 24 hours.
The indictment alleges that Wehbe administered an infusion drug called Remicade without substantiating the appropriate diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis, which Remicade is designed to treat. He allegedly failed to treat patients with necessary ancillary drugs and failed to test patients for certain risks associated with Remicade, such as tuberculosis. He also allegedly recorded dosages of Remicade treatment far exceeding the recommended maximum dosages.
The indictment alleges that Wehbe billed carriers for drug infusions that he had not actually performed, in quantities greater than he had administered, or in amounts that RMG did not have in its inventory.
The indictment charges Wehbe with 21 counts of health care fraud, 108 counts of distributing oxycodone and hydrocodone while “acting outside the usual course of professional medical practice,” nine counts of money laundering, two counts of laundering money to a foreign country, and twelve counts of mail fraud. It also seeks the criminal forfeiture of $5,923,957, alleged to be derived from Wehbe’s health care fraud or involved in his money laundering.
The forfeiture counts in the indictment are in addition civil forfeiture complaints filed in April seeking Wehbe’s assets. They include a 401(k) account worth $209,000 and RMG real estate on North Main Street, Providence, for which forfeiture orders have already been issued.
Forfeiture complaints are pending against other Wehbe assets, including bank accounts and a waterfront home in Jamestown.
Warrants have been issued for Wehbe’s arrest. An indictment is merely an allegation and a defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty. In the event of conviction, the maximum penalties for the offenses charged are: health care fraud – 10 years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine; distribution of oxycodone – 10 years imprisonment and a $1,000,000 fine; distribution of hydrocodone – five years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine; money laundering – 10 years imprisonment and fine of $250,000 or twice the amount of gain; laundering money to a foreign country – 20 years imprisonment and a fine of $500,000 or twice the amount of gain.
The indictment resulted from a multi-agency investigation anchored by the Food and Drug Administration, Office of Criminal Investigation. In addition to FDA-OCI, it included the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General, the Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation, the Rhode Island Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and the Drug Enforcement Administration. Immigration and Customs Enforcement provided assistance.