Michigan clinic office manager pleads guilty in $131M drug fraud conspiracy

Hydrocodone opioid pills
The office manager of Tri-County Network pleaded guilty for his role in a $131 million fraud scheme. (Getty/smartstock)

The office manager of a Michigan clinic pleaded guilty last week for his part in a $131 million Detroit-area Medicare fraud scheme that put controlled substances, including opioids, into the hands of patients, many of them addicted to drugs.

Yasser Mozeb, 35, of Oakland County, Michigan, pleaded guilty in the scheme that involved the unnecessary prescription of controlled substances and resulted in a $131 million loss to Medicare, according to the Department of Justice. He is one of seven people charged in the federal investigation into the Tri-County Network.

Mozeb was office manager of Tri-County and pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit healthcare fraud and one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States and pay and receive healthcare kickbacks. Sentencing is scheduled for May.

“With one American dying of a drug overdose every nine minutes, we are facing the deadliest drug crisis in American history,” said U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, in the announcement. “Sadly, some have chosen to take advantage of this crisis and exploit vulnerable patients for profit.”

In response to the opioid epidemic, the Justice Department has stepped up its efforts to go after rogue doctors and fight opioid-related fraud. Sessions’ called Mozeb’s prosecution a victory in that fight.

RELATED: Attorney General Jeff Sessions targets medical professionals in 12 U.S. opioid epidemic ‘hot spots’

Last October, a Michigan doctor, Abdul Haq, 72, of Ypsilanti, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit healthcare fraud in the Tri-County case and also faces sentencing in May.

As part of their guilty pleas, both Mozeb and Haq admitted to conspiring with the owner of the Tri-County Network, Mashiyat Rashid, who is awaiting trial, along with four other individuals. Mozeb said he conspired to pay illegal kickbacks and bribes to Medicare patients, co-conspirator patient recruiters and others to obtain patients for Tri-County, according to the Justice Department.

He also participated in a scheme to prescribe medically unnecessary controlled substances, which allegedly included oxycodone and other drugs, to Medicare patients, many of whom were addicted to narcotics. As part of the scheme, physicians were directed to require patients to undergo medically unnecessary facet joint injections in order to obtain prescriptions for the drugs.

Mozeb also admitted that he and Rashid conspired with physicians to refer patients to specific third-party home health agencies, laboratories and diagnostic providers in exchange for kickbacks and bribes even though those referrals were not necessary.

Medical professionals are increasingly facing criminal charges—including murder—when their patients overdose on opioid painkillers they prescribed. One DEA agent says the agency is sending a "message" to "rogue doctors."