Former Salem pharmacist faces fraud charge

A former Salem Lease Drug pharmacist who had been convicted of a felony prior to working there is now facing a federal charge of health care fraud for filling prescriptions he was not permitted to fill for Medicare and Medicaid patients.

The one-count criminal information was filed Thursday against Bruce E. Franken, 52, of Hermitage, Pa., who worked at the J.H. Lease Pharmacy, 229 N. Ellsworth Ave., Salem, from May 14, 2009, through July 14, 2011.

According to the information filed by Steven M. Dettelbach, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio, Franken “was excluded in 2003 from participating in all federal health care programs, including Medicare and Medicaid, for a minimum of 10 years as a result of his felony conviction.”

“This defendant was specifically barred from billing programs such as Medicaid because of his criminal past,” Dettelbach said in a news release. “Our office will continue to stamp out waste, fraud and abuse of all federal programs, particularly those that affect our health care system.”

The charge stemmed from his actions while he was working at Lease Drug in Salem. He had tried to appeal the order by the Department of Health and Human Services which prevented him from participating in the federal health care programs, but the appeal was denied.

The news release alleged that “as a result of Franken’s unauthorized and fraudulent claims, Medicaid was billed and subsequently paid these prescriptions that Franken was prohibited from providing in the amount of $301,550.”

Michael Tobin, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, said the statutory maximum sentence for the charge is 10 years. The news release said in most cases, the sentence is less than the maximum with the court looking at the defendant’s prior criminal record, the defendant’s role in the offense and the characteristics of the violation.

The case is being handled by Assistant U.S. Attorney Chelsea Rice and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Constance Nearhood following an investigation by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General.

Tobin explained that a criminal information is different from an indictment in that the defendant stipulates to the probable cause, but it’s not evidence of guilt.

According to the Ohio State Board of Pharmacy website, Franken’s pharmacy license was set to expire on Sunday. No information was provided on where he’s currently working. A call was placed to Lease Drug Thursday afternoon, but the person who answered the phone said no one was available to comment.

According to findings of fact in an order issued by the Ohio State Board of Pharmacy in January 2002, Franken was originally licensed to practice pharmacy in the state of Ohio on June 26, 1984, with his license initially suspended Sept. 6, 2000 and then revoked on Jan. 11 2002. He appealed the order to the Franklin County Common Pleas Court, which reversed part of the order and remanded the case back to the board for a new penalty.

In an agreement reached in April 2003 between Franken and the pharmacy board, his license to practice pharmacy was restored and he was ordered to enter a new five-year contract with the Pharmacist’s Rehabilitation Organization requiring random urine screenings and attendance at support group meetings, such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous, besides abiding by the drug laws and regulations of the state of Ohio, any other state and the federal government.

A list of the exhibits in the board’s case against Franken included a 2000 criminal case in Pickaway County and one in Franklin County in 2001. According to online court records in Franklin County, he was placed on probation after pleading guilty to two felony counts of theft and a misdemeanor of gross sexual imposition. The records for Pickaway County did not give detail about the charges, but indicated he was granted intervention in lieu of conviction.

A board document issued when his license was revoked in 2002 said Franken used deception to procure a prescription for 30 tablets of the drug Viagra in 2000 from an online pharmacy and from 1994 to 2000 stole numerous drugs from his employer, the Orient Correctional Institution, and abused anabolic steroids during that same time period.