Alaska doctor pleads guilty to health care fraud in $200K drug conspiracy
After losing his medical license, an Alaska doctor has pleaded guilty to spearheading a drug conspiracy involving overprescribing dozens of patients, nonexistent records for a handful of others and nearly $200,000 worth of opioids.
Michael Don Robertson, 67, reached a plea deal with federal prosecutors, agreeing to plead guilty to conspiracy to commit controlled substance fraud as well as health care fraud while practicing in Alaska.
According to the plea agreement, Robertson intentionally distributed controlled substances "without a legitimate medical purpose" from May 2015 through March 2018. He surrendered his medical license in May 2018 due to the investigation.
"Specifically, [Robertson] issued 465 prescriptions for meperidine to 30 different recipients, totaling 32,109 meperidine pills," the court document states. "Meperidine, commonly known as Demerol, is a Schedule II controlled substance. Meperidine is an opioid with an abuse liability similar to morphine."
The agreement states that Robertson issued the meperidine prescriptions knowing his patients didn't really need the drug. The exchange was part of a conspiracy where the patients would fill the meperidine prescriptions and return the drugs to Robertson. The doctor would then issue those patients prescriptions for other controlled substances, such as fentanyl and oxycodone.
The meperidine pills had a retail value of about $128,436 — equating to around $4 a pill — and a street value of about $192,654, which would be around $6 a pill.
The agreement also states Robertson didn't have accurate records for close to 800 prescriptions for controlled substances. He didn't keep any medical records at all for five of his patients, all of which were given prescriptions for controlled substances.
"[Robertson] caused claims to be submitted to Medicaid regarding these 790 prescriptions, resulting in Medicaid paying $3,286.87 to [Robertson's] medical practice based on those claims," the agreement states. "Further, Medicaid paid $3,601.52 to pharmacies for these 790 controlled substance prescriptions."
For the conspiracy to commit controlled substance fraud charge, Robertson faces a maximum of four years in prison and $250,000 fine along with no more than three years of supervised release. For the health care fraud charge, Robertson faces a maximum of 10 years in prison, another $250,000 fine and additional years of supervised release.
The agreement states the court may impose additional fines and order Robertson to pay $6,888.39 in restitution to Medicaid.
U.S. District Judge Sharon Gleason presided over Robertson's hearing in district court Wednesday, where the doctor said he "owned" any wrongdoing.
In a release announcing the deal, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Alaska Bryan Schroder said his office and the Drug Enforcement Agency are focused on investigating and prosecuting these kind of cases.
“The diversion of prescription drugs is a significant cause of the opioid crisis,” Schroder said. “It is especially disappointing when the pills are diverted from appropriate medical use by physicians — those we trust to protect the health of the public.”
A sentencing hearing in the case is scheduled for Oct. 25.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated Robertson's plea deal was with the state.
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