Sunday, July 14, 2024

Former pharmacist sent to prison for health care fraud

A former pharmacist and his employee were each sentenced to 24 months in federal prison for conspiracy to commit health care fraud in connection with a scheme through his Robeson County pharmacy.

James Craig Bell, 63, owned and operated Townsend’s Pharmacy in Red Springs. He pleaded guilty to the charge in October 2022.

His codefendant and former employee, Milisha Oxendine West 51, was sentenced in July to 24 months imprisonment, followed by three years of supervised release, in connection with the same scheme, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of North Carolina. 

“People who steal taxpayer-funded programs intended to provide healthcare to the needy will be investigated and prosecuted,” U.S. Attorney Michael Easley said in a statement released by his office. “For over a decade, Bell and his pharmacy fraudulently billed Medicare and Medicaid over $4 million for medicine he never actually gave to patients. That money should have gone to getting vital medications to those in need.”

Beginning as early as 2006 through July 2017, Bell, acting through Townsend’s Pharmacy, billed Medicare, Medicaid, and various private health plans for prescription drugs that were never actually dispensed by the pharmacy. Bell had trained West on how to bill health care benefit plans for drugs that were not authorized or dispensed.

Bell also trained employees to falsely reauthorize a previously existing prescription from a licensed medical professional, and how to falsely bill health care benefit programs as though a drug had been dispensed. West began independently running the pharmacy’s operations while Bell continued to knowingly profit from the fraudulent billing practices. 

This fraud scheme in total cost Medicare and North Carolina Medicaid more than $4 million in fraudulent billings, according to estimates by investigators.

“When providers submit false claims to Medicare and Medicaid, they take valuable, taxpayer-funded resources away from patients,” said Tamala E. Miles, special agent in charge at the Department of Health and Human Services, according to a statement released by the U.S. Attorney’s Office. 

The N.C. Board of Pharmacy suspended Bell’s license to practice in July 2017.

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