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Houston, TX (Apr 26) – Stretching a span of 10 years, Drs. Arun and Kiran Sharma, of Kemah, Texas, have been convicted of “conspiring to commit health care fraud over a 10-year-period in the Southern District of Texas”. The announcement, made today by U.S. Attorney Jose Angel Moreno, ensures their guilty plea does not tie up the Texas court system. The trial for both doctors was set to begin today, but they “opted to plead guilty to one count of conspiracy and one count of health care fraud” according to FBI sources.
Arun and Kiran Sharma have admitted that from January 1, 1998 through June 10, 2009, they bilked Medicare, Medicaid, and various private health care providers for medical procedures that were never performed. Operating multiple clinics under the name Allergy, Asthma, Arthritis Pain Center, these clinics were located in Baytown and Webster, Texas. Approximately one-half of their patients heard of their clinic(s) through word-of-mouth.
Initially averaging 50 to 60 patients a day in 1998, by 2009, they were treating almost 100. One hundred and nine patients was an all-time high in 2005.
Hydrocodone, Soma, and Xanax were the prescriptions of choice by Dr. Arun Sharma. He also prescribed much stronger narcotics including oxycodone, methadone, and fetynal patches. Injections of lidocaine combined with steroids were used to provide temporary various joint and muscle pain relief. One facet of their health care fraud involved the code in billing these as “facet joint injections, paravertebral injections, sacroiliac nerve injections, sciatic nerve injections, and other various nerve blocking injections. This type of treatment is normally considered “trigger point injections”.
Charges also stem from Dr. Kiran “falsely indicating that she had administered facet joint injections or other paravertebral injections when in reality she would, at best, have given trigger point injections. She would also prescribe narcotics when she saw pain management patients.”
Stating the need for a consistent regime of shots every two weeks, the “patients were required to sign the progress and procedure notes in their patient chart to prove they were at the clinic and received the shots. Dr. A tried to convince all patients to have shots at every visit, but many of the patients did not want the shots every two weeks. For those patients who ultimately refused the shots, Dr. A regularly required the patients to sign the progress and procedure notes even though they received only a prescription for controlled substances and did not receive any injections.”
Combined with their criminal charges plea, both doctors voluntarily turned over tens of millions of dollars in assets previously seized, including their home, multiple parcels of real property, over $700,000 found during a search of their home, and over $800,000 discovered during a search of two safe deposit boxes. They also had a number of investment accounts they funded with the fraudulent proceeds.
Kiran Sharma will serve eight years in prison, and Arun Sharma could be sentenced to up to 15 years.
According to a Justice Department release, the criminal charges were the result of a joint investigation conducted by FBI agents, the Department of Health and Human Services-Office of Inspector General, the Medicare Fraud Control Unit of the Texas Attorney General’s Office, the Office of Personnel Management-Office of Inspector General, the Railroad Retirement Board-Office of Inspector General and the Drug Enforcement Administration. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Al Balboni and Jason Varnado.