Monday, August 1, 2011

Dr. Gwendolyn Washington, Pleads Guilty to Illegal Prescription Drug Trafficking and Health Care Fraud


Dr. Gwendolyn Washington, M.D., age 67, pleaded guilty today to four felony counts involving drug trafficking and health care fraud, United States Attorney Barbara L. McQuade announced. McQuade was joined in the announcement by Andrew G. Arena, Special Agent in Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Detroit Field Division and Lamont Pugh, III, Special Agent in Charge, Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General.

United States Attorney Barbara L. McQuade stated, “These crimes not only harm all of us who pay to support Medicare, but create potential harm to patients by submitting patients to unnecessary testing and by putting prescription drugs on the streets. The number of fatal overdoses from prescription drugs in the United States last year was more than six times the number of fatal overdoses from all other illegal drugs combined.”

Today, Washington pleaded guilty to committing health care fraud, accepting illegal kickbacks, and committing drug distribution offenses.

First, Washington admitted that between 2004 and 2010, she performed unnecessary ultrasounds, nuclear cardiac stress tests, balance tests, sleep tests, and nerve conduction tests on patients, who were urged to return to the Washington’s office every few months for repeat tests, even though initial results were normal. Washington billed Medicare and Blue Cross and Blue Shield more than $5 million for these tests, some of which were potentially harmful to patients. Nuclear stress tests, for example, involve the intravenous injection of radionuclide, which emits radiation.

Second, Washington also admitted that she solicited and received kickbacks from home health care agencies and diagnostic testing facilities in return for referring patients to them for medical services. Washington referred patients to home health agencies, falsely certifying them as being confined to the home, in return for payments from home health care agencies of $200 to $500 per patient. In total, Washington received $350,000 in total kickback payments. Medicare paid approximately $2.8 million to agencies receiving the fraudulent referrals. Washington received another $250,000 directly from Medicare for false certifications of patients for home health services.

Third, Washington admitted to committing two counts of controlled substances offenses. In February 2010, when Medicare suspended payments to Washington, resulting in a drastic reduction in her income, she began writing prescriptions for tens of thousands of doses of OxyContin, Opana ER, and Roxicodone, highly addictive pain medications that have a significant “street value” on the illicit market. Washington sometimes wrote prescriptions for individuals who were not her patients, without an examination or determination of medical necessity, and without an appropriate diagnosis or entry in a patient chart. Washington then provided these illegal prescriptions to Virginia Dillard, a co-defendant. Dillard filled the prescriptions at various pharmacies in Highland Park, Warren, and Detroit. After filling the illegal prescriptions, Virginia Dillard delivered the controlled substances to prescription drug dealers in exchange for money. Dillard sold each filled prescription in amounts ranging from $1,000 to $2,200, and shared the proceeds with Washington. Dillard pleaded guilty earlier this week.

The maximum penalties are up to 20 years’ imprisonment. A sentencing hearing was set by Judge Borman for October 5, 2011 at 3:00 p.m.

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