“I’m ready to put this behind me.”

Nurse practitioner sentenced for role in compound pharmacy scheme

“I’m ready to put this behind me.”
A federal judge has handed down his sentence for a Mississippi-based nurse practitioner for her role in a compound pharmacy scheme that defrauded the government and healthcare agencies out of millions. (Source: Pixabay)

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - A federal judge handed down his sentence to a Mississippi-based nurse practitioner for her role in a compound pharmacy scheme that defrauded the government and healthcare agencies out of millions.

U.S. District Judge Keith Starrett sentenced 60-year-old Susan Perry to three years and six months in prison and also ordered her to pay roughly $1.37 million in restitution to TRICARE, Humana, Express Scripts, CVS and Optum RX. After serving her sentence, she has three years of supervised release.

“This is not an innocent mistake, this was an intentional act...,” said Starrett to Perry after his sentencing. “...We all do things we are ashamed of, but this is something you knew was improper.”

Perry, a Grand Bay, AL native, pleaded guilty on June 15 to one count in a 13-count indictment against her. She was charged back in 2017 for her role in the $400 million scheme.

“Beginning in or around January 2014, and continuing until in or around April 2015, in Lamar County, in the Eastern Division of the Southern District of Mississippi, and elsewhere, the Defendant conspired with others to knowingly and willfully execute or attempt to execute a scheme and artifice to defraud health care benefit programs, including TRICARE, a federally funded health care benefit program that serves United States military personnel and families. The scheme focused on compounded medications formulated and sold by Advantage Pharmacy, which was located in Lamar County, Mississippi.”

In the indictment, Perry was charged with one count of attempt and conspiracy, four counts of fraud by wire, radio or television, one count of conspiracy to distribute controlled substance, one count of controlled substance--- sell, distribute, or dispense, one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States, two counts of payment to non-licensed physician and one count of statements or entries generally also known as making false statements. As a part of her plea deal, the remaining 12 charges against her were dropped.

Court documents show that TRICARE--- a health benefit program serving the U.S. military and their family members--- reimbursed $3.3 million in compounded medications including Ketamine--- a controlled substance prescribed by Perry. Based on a federal investigation, TRICARE and other health care benefit programs “relied upon the defendant’s signature on the pre-printed prescriptions as evidencing the medical necessity of the compounded medications dispensed.” Perry’s actions caused TRICARE to reimburse Advantage Pharmacy $1,376,692 in claims. She also allegedly received $50,000 in kickbacks.

“...As a nurse practitioner, Defendant was empowered to write prescriptions for medications, including compound medications, which were medications combined, mixed, or altered by licensed pharmacists or other practitioners to meet the specific needs of individual patients. Defendant, as a nurse practitioner, was aware that prescribers were not permitted to prescribe medications, including compounded medications, that were not medically necessary and reasonable for the treatment of the patient....”

Starrett offered Perry an opportunity to make remarks prior to her sentencing. She broke down while reading her statement. A lot of family and friends sat in the three pews behind her wiping tears from their faces as she spoke.

“I’ve lost my ability to practice medicine and help people,” she said tearfully. “... I’m ready to put this behind me, so my family and I can move on with our lives.”

Perry is the fourth person tied to the compound pharmacy scheme to appear in court in 2018. Albert Diaz, a Biloxi-based physician, was also sentenced to 42 months in federal prison. On March 2, Diaz was found guilty on all charges in a 16-count indictment. Unlike Perry, Diaz did not stand to profit from his role in the scheme--- a point Starrett mentioned during his sentencing report.

“The difference was no financial gain,” Starrett said of the two cases. “Perry received quite a bit of money --- that is the distinction.”

Jay Schaar, a former pharmaceutical sales representative, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit health care fraud in a scheme to defraud TRICARE of more than $2.3 million. The pharmacist in charge of Advantage Pharmacy, Jason May, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit health care fraud and money laundering to defraud health care benefit programs, including TRICARE, of more than $190 million.

Indictments continue to roll out in the compound pharmacy scheme. In May, four more Pine Belt residents---Hope Thomley, Randy Thomley, Glenn Doyle Beach Jr. and Gregory Grafton Parker--- were indicted for their part in the alleged multi-million scheme to defraud healthcare programs.

Starrett, who also sentenced Diaz, says the courts have to send a message to professionals in cases such as these.

“Too (whom) much is give, much is expected,” he said.

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