From Tribune staff reports
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Another individual has pleaded guilty in a series of related cases involving multi-million-dollar health care fraud conspiracies, announced U.S. Attorney Prim F. Escalona, Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agent in Charge Carlton L. Peeples, and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General, Special Agent in Charge Tamala E. Miles.
John Alan Robson, 40, of Trussville, pleaded guilty yesterday to health care fraud conspiracy. Robson was indicted in February of 2023.
According to the plea agreement, Robson was a sales representative who marketed to doctors’ offices various health care products and services, including topical prescription creams from specialty pharmacies, durable medical equipment (DME), and electro-diagnostic testing. Robson was paid fees for the prescriptions, DME, and tests he generated from doctors. From at least 2014 through 2018, Robson conspired with others to pay and receive kickbacks to induce medical providers to issue medically unnecessary prescriptions and order medically unnecessary goods and services, which were then billed to Medicare and other health insurers.
Two of the sales reps named in Robson’s indictment as having engaged in the same conspiracy conduct have previously pleaded guilty to related crimes. Brian Bowman, 42, of Gadsden, and James Ewing Ray, 53, of Gadsden, each pleaded guilty to health care fraud conspiracy. As part of their respective plea agreements, Bowman agreed to forfeit more than $7.6 million, Ray agreed to forfeit more than $800,000, and Robson agreed to forfeit more than $1 million. All three will be ordered, at sentencing, to pay restitution to the victims of their crimes.
Dozens of defendants have been convicted in related cases.
Among the medically unnecessary items Bowman, Ray, and Robson marketed were topical creams for specialty pharmacies including Global Compounding Pharmacy and Watson Rx Solutions. Bowman, Ray, and Robson were paid commissions to induce these prescriptions to be issued. According to Robson’s plea agreement, he and other marketers got blank pre-signed prescriptions from doctors and then completed the prescriptions to ensure the prescriptions would be paid for by insurance, regardless of whether the drugs were medically necessary for patients’ needs. Robson and other marketers also marked specific drugs or drug formulations to make sure insurance would pay for them. And they assured patients and providers that the pharmacies would not insist on collecting copays, which might discourage patients from getting the prescriptions filled. Sales reps also got prescriptions for themselves—regardless of whether there was a medical need—and Bowman, Ray, and Robson were paid commissions on those prescriptions.
More than two dozen defendants have been convicted in connection with the fraud at Global Compounding Pharmacy. Jason Akin, 46, of Florence, has pleaded guilty to health care fraud in connection with the fraud at Watson Rx Solutions.
Another service Bowman, Ray, and Robson marketed was electro-diagnostic testing, specifically, nerve conduction testing, provided by a Huntsville-based electro-diagnostic testing company called QBR, or Diagnostic Referral Community. Bowman, Ray, and Robson received per-patient payments from QBR for inducing medical providers to order tests from QBR. Medical providers received payments from QBR too; the payments were disguised as hourly payments for the ordering physician’s time and staff’s time, but in reality they were per-patient kickbacks.
Dr. Eric Beck, 65, of Huntsville, pleaded guilty to health care fraud conspiracy for his role in the fraud at QBR. John Hornbuckle, 54, of Huntsville, pleaded guilty to health care fraud and kickback conspiracy offenses for his role, as QBR’s CEO, in orchestrating the fraud.
Defendants associated with multiple medical practices have also been convicted in related cases.
In one case, a jury convicted Dr. Mark Murphy, 66, and his wife Jennifer Murphy, 66, both of Lewisburg, Tennessee, of drug distribution, fraud, and kickback crimes. The Murphys operated North Alabama Pain Services, which closed its Decatur and Madison offices in early 2017. According to court documents and evidence presented at trial, the Murphys took kickbacks from QBR of more than a million dollars. In return, Dr. Murphy ordered electro-diagnostic tests from QBR for his patients, regardless of whether there was a medical need for those tests. Dr. Murphy also pre-signed prescriptions for expensive specialty topical creams, sprays, and patches, which patients then received whether they wanted the products or not.
In another case, David Lyle Shehi, 43, of Rainbow City, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to pay kickbacks and commit health care fraud. Shehi owned Etowah Pain, a pain clinic in Rainbow City, and pleaded guilty to receiving kickbacks in exchange for his practice’s ordering items or services that would be billed to Medicare and other health insurance programs.
Mark Murphy and Jennifer Murphy were each sentenced to twenty years in prison. Hornbuckle was sentenced to eighty months. Bowman, Ray, Robson, Shehi, and Akin are all awaiting sentencing. Other co-conspirators have already been sentenced.
The maximum penalty for conspiracy to commit health care fraud is ten years in prison. The FBI and HHS-OIG investigated the case, and Assistant U.S. Attorneys J.B. Ward and Don Long are prosecuting it.