Washington state based research laboratory and owner indicted for falsifying opioid addiction drug research trials
SPOKANE, Wash. – Yesterday, a 47-count federal indictment was unsealed against two Richland, Washington based companies, Mid Columbia Research LLC and Zain Research LLC, and their owner, Sami Anwar. The indictment charges the defendants with conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud, fraudulently obtaining controlled substances, and furnishing false information to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. The indictment also seeks the forfeiture of at least $274,642.80 representing the proceeds of the alleged fraud.
The indictment charges that between July 2016 and January 2018, the defendants fraudulently conducted and falsified a drug trial designed to study an experimental alternative treatment for daily opioid users who suffered from chronic pain. The indictment charges that the defendants enrolled ineligible study subjects and forged physician signatures and falsified medical records and other documentation designed to make it appear as though a licensed physician had determined that the subjects were eligible for the study. The indictment further charges that the defendants falsified records and study data designed to make it appear as though subjects were participating in the study and were receiving the experimental treatment when they were not, in order to falsely bill for the study and obtain over a quarter of a million dollars from the drug company that was sponsoring the study. The indictment charges that the defendants created false and fraudulent documentation to hide the fraud from the sponsor, monitors, and federal regulators. The indictment also charges that the defendants fraudulently obtained controlled substances, including the narcotic opioids hydrocodone/acetaminophen (which is commonly sold as Vicodin) and morphine, by falsely representing that these drugs would be and were being used for legitimate research purposes when they were not. Finally, the indictment charges that the defendants submitted a false and fraudulent application to the DEA in a failed attempt to obtain Gamma Hydroxybutyrate (commonly known as “GHB” or the “date rape drug”) for a separate sleep disorder study that the defendants also hoped to obtain funding for.
“Investigating fraud and opioid-related crimes is a top priority for the Department of Justice," said United States Attorney Harrington. "The United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Washington will continue to use all of the investigative and legal tools available to us to do so.”
DEA Special Agent in Charge of the Pacific Northwest Region Keith Weis was extremely pleased with today’s announcement. “Conducting legitimate research is the foundation in which modern medicine is built on," said Special Agent in Charge Weis. "To exploit that under the false premise of conducting lifesaving research to aid those who suffer opioid dependency is appalling, illegal, and criminal. This investigative action in Eastern Washington is part of a continuing state wide strategy addressing illicit opioid access and diversion currently endangering our communities.”
The conspiracy, mail, and wire fraud charges against Defendant Sami Anwar each carry a maximum penalty of a 20-year term of imprisonment; a $250,000 fine, or double the gross gain or gross loss, whichever is greater; a 3-year term of court supervision; and restitution. Following the grand jury’s return of the indictment, United States Magistrate Judge Mary K. Dimke issued a warrant for the seizure of more than $175,000 from one of Mr. Anwar’s bank accounts constituting some of the proceeds of the alleged fraud.
An indictment is merely an allegation and is not evidence of guilt. A defendant is entitled to a fair trial in which it will be the government’s burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
This investigation was conducted by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. This case is being prosecuted by Dan Fruchter and Tyler H.L. Tornabene, Assistant United States Attorneys for the Eastern District of Washington.