Pharmacist gets 2 years in prison for Medicaid program fraud

A former Salem pharmacist prohibited from filling prescriptions through Medicaid who filled them anyway has been sentenced to two years in federal prison and ordered to pay more than $300,000 in restitution for health care fraud.

Bruce E. Franken, 53, now of Pennsylvania, worked at Lease Drug on North Ellsworth Avenue in Salem from May 14, 2009, through July 14, 2011, the time period when federal investigators said he filled the Medicaid prescriptions even though he knew he was excluded from participation in all federal health care programs due to a previous felony conviction.

According to a press release from the office of Steven M. Dettelbach, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio, Franken had already pleaded guilty to the health care fraud charge. The charge was part of a one-count criminal information which was issued in September.

Besides the restitution and prison time, Franken will be on supervised release for three years when he gets out of prison.

“This sentence sends an important message that there will be consequences for those that try to game programs such as Medicaid,” Dettelbach said in the press release. “Our office will continue to stamp out waste, fraud and abuse of all federal programs, particularly those that affect our health care system.”

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine also issued a comment on the case, through the press release, saying,”This defendant filled these prescriptions with complete disregard for the law because he knew that he was legally prohibited from doing so. Because of his previous crimes, he was not allowed to work with Medicaid recipients, and he had no right to completely ignore this restriction.”

The press release said that in 2003, Franken was excluded from participating in all federal health care programs, including Medicare and Medicaid, for a minimum of 10 years due to a felony conviction. His work at Lease Drug occurred during that 10-year period and ended up costing Medicaid $301,550 for the unauthorized prescriptions.

Franken’s pharmacy license had been suspended Sept. 6, 2000 and then revoked on Jan. 11, 2002, but then was restored in April 2003, according to information from the Ohio State Board of Pharmacy. He had appealed the revocation in Franklin County Common Pleas Court.

As part of an agreement with the state pharmacy board to have his license restored, Franken had to enter a 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.

The agreement apparently did not change the fact that he was prohibited from participation in any federal health care programs for 10 years.

A list of the exhibits in the pharmacy board’s case against Franken included a 2000 criminal case in Pickaway County and a 2001 criminal case in Franklin County.

According to online court records for the case 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 pharmacy 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, that from 1994 to 2000 he stole numerous drugs from his employer, the Orient Correctional Institution, and that during the same time period, he abused anabolic steroids. The Orient Correctional Institution was located in Pickaway County.

According to the Ohio State Board of Pharmacy website, Franken’s pharmacy license expired on Sept. 15 when he failed to renew it. The expiration occurred just days after the federal charge was first announced.

The federal case was handled by Assistant U.S. Attorney Chelsea Rice and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Constance Nearhood following an investigation by the Ohio Attorney General’s Health Care Fraud Section and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General.