From The Trussville Tribune staff reports
BIRMINGHAM – A federal jury today convicted Dr. Patrick Emeka Ifediba, 60, of Shelby County, and Ifediba’s sister, Ngozi Justina Ozuligbo, 49, of Trussville, of numerous crimes stemming from their involvement with Care Complete Medical Clinic, located in Birmingham, Alabama, announced U.S. Attorney Jay E. Town, FBI Special Agent in Charge Johnnie Sharp Jr., and Drug Enforcement Administration Assistant Special Agent in Charge Clay Morris.
The U.S. Department of Justice said that following a four-week trial before Judge David R. Proctor, the jury convicted Ifediba of 35 counts involving unlawful drug distribution, health care fraud and money laundering. Specifically, Ifediba was convicted of: one count of conspiracy to illegally distribute controlled substances by means of prescriptions; 14 counts of illegal prescribing; one count of maintaining drug-involved premises; one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud; 10 counts of health care fraud; one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering; three counts of concealment money laundering; and four counts of engaging in monetary transactions involving criminally derived property greater than $10,000.
According to the Justice Department, for her part in the offenses, Ozuligbo, a licensed practical nurse, was convicted of 12 counts involving health care fraud and money laundering. Specifically, Ozuligbo was convicted of: one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud; nine counts of health care fraud; one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering; and one count of concealment money laundering. Sentencing dates have not been set.
“This jury verdict should put all health care providers on notice that sacrificing care for greed will land you in federal court,” said Town. “And we have bed space in federal prison for all that do.”
The Department of Justice said evidence at the trial proved that Ifediba was a doctor of internal medicine who owned Care Complete Medical Clinic (“CCMC”) and operated it with his wife, Dr. Uchenna Ifediba. The evidence showed that the doctors operated CCMC as a pill mill. They routinely prescribed dangerous and addictive opioids for the primary purpose of making money from repeated return office visits. Ifediba not only overprescribed opioids, he also prescribed dangerous cocktails of drugs, including one called “the holy trinity,” that produces a heroin-like high, but creates a significant risk of an overdose. Although Ifediba was not a pain management specialist and CCMC did not hold itself out as a pain management clinic, approximately 85% of its patients received opioid prescriptions.
The Department of Justice reported that in addition to operating a pill mill, the evidence showed that Ifediba and others, including Ozuligbo, cheated and stole millions of dollars from Medicare and private health insurers in connection with an allergy fraud scheme. Although neither had any training in allergy medicine, the pair would order patients with health insurance to take allergy tests and submit to allergy treatments they didn’t need. Ifediba even forced some patients to take unwanted allergy tests by withholding their opioid prescriptions if they refused. Ifediba then ordered expensive allergy therapy treatments for all these patients even when the patients tested negative.
According to the Department of Justice, purpose of the allergy scheme was to increase CCMC’s revenue. CCMC billed health insurers more than $7.8M throughout the scheme. Representatives of Medicare and several private insurance companies testified at trial. The evidence showed that Ifediba billed one of the private insurers nearly $3M for allergy services over a two-and-a-half-year period. Ifediba was their number one biller in the state of Alabama, accounting for 61% of all allergy-related billing. The insurance company’s next highest biller was an allergy and asthma center employing eight doctors and nine nurse practitioners.
The Department of Justice said the evidence at trial showed that Ifediba opened numerous bank accounts and used shell corporations to hide the money he made from his crimes. Ifediba moved the illicit funds between bank accounts and used the names of family members, including Ozuligbo, to make it appear as though the bank accounts and companies belonged to someone else. A substantial portion of these illicit funds were used to buy a condominium, annuities, and other investments held in the names of others, but which were for Ifediba’s personal use and benefit.
The charges of conspiracy to commit health care fraud and health care fraud both carry maximum penalties of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Conspiracy to distribute controlled substances and distribution of controlled substances both carry a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine. Maintaining drug-involved premises carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $500,000 fine.
Money laundering conspiracy and laundering of monetary instruments both carry a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Engaging in monetary transactions in criminally derived property worth more than $10,000 carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000 or twice the amount of the criminally derived property involved.