Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Doctor Who Pre-Signed Prescriptions for Psychiatric Drugs Allegedly Diverted to Black Market and Billed to Medicare Sentenced to Nine Years in Federal Prison

A Los Angeles physician was sentenced to a long sentence after trial in an unusual case involving the prescribing of anti-psychotic medications to recruited paid patients who did not need them. The patients then returned the medications to other codefendants (not the doctor or pharmacy) for resale on the black market to other pharmacies. This investigation was called "Operation Psych Out." 

It was alleged that the prescriptions were all written Dr. Johnson's name from 2009 to 2011 and that he never examined or evaluated these patients for the prescriptions. Prescriptions were pre-signed and issued by another codefendant Nuritsa Grigoryan (a doctor in Armenia but not licensed here) to the patients. These prescriptions were then filled at pharmacies and then the patients allegedly gave the medications back to other codefendants, who then sold and redistributed the medications on the black market. 

The charges related to the time period September 2009 to October 2011 where non-physician managers Lianna “Lili” Ovsepian and her brother Artak Ovsepian (who were co-defendants) operated a medical clinic known as Manor Medical Imaging in Glendale, California. Dr. Johnson was not an owner.  

On January 6, 2016, Dr. Kenneth Johnson received a lengthy 108-month (9 year) prison term from United States District Judge S. James Otero who said he wanted the sentence to “deter others from engaging in this type of conduct, especially physicians.” Dr. Johnson was convicted after being found guilty after trial in 2014. Although Dr. Johnson's role was much more limited than some of his codefendants, the fact that he pre-signed the prescriptions was viewed as a critical role by the government. 
Lianna Ovsepian, the manager and owner of Manor Medical, was sentenced to eight years in prison in August after pleading guilty to health care fraud charges before the trial of Dr. Johnson and three other codefendants. Although Ms. Ovsepian was viewed as being more of the mastermind with her brother, her sentence was 8 years since she plead guilty and did not go to trial. In contrast, her brother Artak Ovsepian – who was convicted with Johnson at trial – received a 15-year prison term in August. 

The third person convicted at trial – Nuritsa Grigoryan – was the holder of an Armenian medical license who allegedly pretended to be an American physician assistant or doctor when she saw recruited “patients” and who filled out the prescriptions pre-signed by Johnson – fled the United States after being found guilty and remains a fugitive.

One of the drivers pf patients was acquitted at trial and he seemed to have a very low level involvement in the case. It is a good sign that the jury recognized his limited role and acquitted him.  The remaining defendants plead guilty and received sentences of varying lengths.

Attorney Commentary: In this case, like others, these fraud cases are proceeding to trial because the plea offers require long sentences in prison. For example, Ms. Ovsepian received an 8 year term even with a plea and cooperation. It is likely that the sentence offered to Dr. Johnson was lengthy even though his involvement and financial gain was much less than the co-defendants. However, the government's view is that his medical license helped the other defendants perpetrate the fraud. More of these cases will go to trial where the plea offers offer lengthy sentences and where some defendants - like the acquitted driver - have minimal roles in the case. 


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