HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - Mississippi coast Dr. Albert Diaz was sentenced to over 3 years in federal prison Thursday for the role he played in a scheme to defraud TRICARE out of millions of dollars.
Diaz, 78, was sentenced to 42 months to serve at a facility close to his home after being found guilty on all counts in a 16-count federal indictment on March 2. Those charges include fraud, conspiracy, conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance, distribution of a controlled substance and destruction, alteration or falsification of records in a federal investigation.
Diaz entered the federal courtroom in downtown Hattiesburg in shackles on Thursday. Both he and his family were emotional during the sentencing hearing.
For more than two hours, Diaz's Attorney John Coletti argued against the government's attempt to enhance Diaz's charges and their claim that Tricare and other insurance agencies paid $3.3 million based on the false prescriptions Diaz authorized and others made a profit from.
But Judge Keith Starrett overruled most of Coletti's objections. Diaz had a chance to speak before the court, and he said he never intended to defraud the government. He said his belief and desires were to help patients.
Starrett then sentenced Diaz to three-and-a-half years. Starrett ended the sentencing by saying he received more than 100 letters of support and requests for leniency on Diaz's behalf. Starrett said he took the letters, Diaz's age, health and standing in the community into consideration.
Starrett said his ruling for Diaz was to show anyone that if you commit health care fraud, there will be a price to pay. Coletti said he thinks this was the right ruling.
"I've tried many cases in my life, and I've never seen one quite like this," Coletti said. "Almost every fraud case, people get involved with greed and money. Dr. Diaz didn't get anything. The judge saw that and so the government said that all along."
Starrett added he has never seen such an atypical case because Diaz did not profit at all from the defrauding of Tricare. Starrett said a hearing to set restitution will be set at another time.
Diaz took part in a scheme to defraud TRICARE by "prescribing medically unnecessary compounded medications, some of which included Ketamine, a controlled substance, to individuals without first examining the individuals for the purpose of having a Hattiesburg-based compounding pharmacy dispense the medically unnecessary compounded medications and to have TRICARE reimburse the compounding pharmacy for dispensing the medications."
Diaz has maintained his innocence, claiming he never knew about the scheme. He has been behind bars without bond since his conviction.
A 'Support Albert Diaz' Facebook page was created in March for Diaz.