Thursday, August 17, 2017
TUSCALOOSA – A sales representative for a Haleyville, Ala.-based compounding pharmacy pleaded guilty today in federal court to participating in a conspiracy to generate prescriptions and defraud health care insurers and prescription drug administrators out of tens of millions of dollars in 2015.
U.S. Attorney Jay E. Town, FBI Special Agent in Charge Johnnie Sharp, U.S. Postal Inspector in Charge Adrian Gonzalez, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General, Special Agent in Charge Derrick L. Jackson, Defense Criminal Investigative Service Special Agent in Charge John F. Khin, and Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation, Acting Special Agent in Charge James E. Dorsey announced the plea.
BRIDGET McCUNE, 41, of Destin, Fla., pleaded guilty before U.S. District Court Judge L. Scott Coogler to conspiracy to commit health care fraud, wire fraud and mail fraud and to conspiring to solicit and receive kickbacks in return for referring prescriptions under Medicare and TRICARE, a U.S. Department of Defense health care program. McCune also pleaded guilty to four counts of health care fraud, and to two counts of money laundering for spending proceeds of the crimes. She remains out on bond pending sentencing, which is not yet scheduled.
McCune worked for Northside Pharmacy, an Alabama company doing business as Global Compounding Pharmacy. Global’s compounding and shipping facility was in Haleyville. The pharmacy did its prescription processing, billing and customer service at its “call center” in Clearwater, Fla.
Global hired sales representatives, including McCune, who were located in various states and were responsible for generating prescriptions from physicians and other prescribers. To bill insurance providers, including Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama, Medicare and TRICARE, for these prescriptions, Global contracted to enter the pharmacy networks of their third-party administrators, known as “pharmacy benefit managers” or “PBMs. These PBMs included Prime Therapeutics, Express Scripts Incorporated and CVS/Caremark.
McCune’s plea agreement with the government describes a conspiracy at Global that centered on generating and billing PBMs for fraudulent, often high-reimbursement prescriptions. To generate prescriptions, Global hired sales representatives who were married or related to doctors and other prescribers. Global also encouraged sales representatives to volunteer at doctors’ offices where they would review patient files and push Global’s products to patients. Global executives also frequently instructed employees to obtain high-reimbursing prescriptions that Global would fill and bill for reimbursement. The plea agreement describes a Global executive instructing sales representatives to obtain certain prescriptions and, shortly after, McCune obtained those prescriptions for herself and her dependents.
When billing, Global engaged in various fraudulent practices, including splitting drug quantities to evade PBM billing safeguards and automatically refilling and billing for prescriptions regardless of patient need, according to court documents. Global routinely waived co-pays to encourage patients to accept unnecessary medications and refills.
As part McCune’s plea, she agrees to forfeit $401,628 to the government as proceeds of illegal activity.
Global paid McCune a base salary plus a monthly commission for prescriptions that she obtained, according to court documents.
McCune began as a sales representative for Global’s Florida region in September 2014, working from Destin. Global promoted her to national field trainer in January 2015, but she also continued to function as a sales representative until she left the company in July 2016. McCune had a “close familial relationship” with a Florida physician, according to her plea agreement, and the “overwhelming majority of prescriptions she obtained” were issued under her family member’s signature.
At the same time that the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Alabama charged McCune, it separately charged another Global sales representative, KELLEY NORRIS, also known as KELLEY NORRIS-HARTLEY, 41, of Tuscaloosa. Norris faces the charge of conspiracy to commit health care fraud, wire fraud and mail fraud, as well as charges of health care fraud for submitting fraudulent prescription reimbursement claims to Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama. Norris also entered a plea agreement with the government.
The charges against McCune and Norris followed charges brought by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in May against Global sales representative Robin Gary Lowry, 49, of Columbus, Miss. Lowry was charged with conspiracy to defraud BCBS of Alabama and Prime Therapeutics. She also faced three counts of health care fraud for submitting fraudulent claims for payment to BCBS of Alabama.
Lowry pleaded guilty to the charges in June. She is scheduled for sentencing Nov. 7.
FBI, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General, U.S. Defense Criminal Investigative Service and Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation investigated the cases, which Assistant U.S. Attorneys Chinelo Dike-Minor and Nicole Grosnoff are prosecuting.