Fanny Pack Mixup Unravels Massive Medicare Fraud Scheme

ProPublica Staff

Washington, DC, United States (ProPublica) – by Charles Ornstein

The fraud scheme began to unravel last fall, with the discovery of a misdirected stack of bogus prescriptions – and a suspicious spike in Medicare drug spending tied to a doctor in Key Biscayne, Fla.

Now it’s led to two guilty pleas, as well as an ongoing criminal case against a pharmacy owner.

Last year, ProPublica chronicled how lax oversight had led to rampant waste and fraud in Medicare’s prescription drug program, known as Part D. As part of that series, we wrote about Dr. Carmen Ortiz-Butcher, a kidney specialist whose Part D prescriptions soared from $282,000 in 2010 to $4 million the following year. The value of her prescriptions rose to nearly $5 million in 2012, the most recent year available.

But no one in Medicare bothered to ask her about the seemingly huge change in her practice, Ortiz-Butcher’s attorney said. She stumbled across a sign of trouble last September, after asking a staffer to mail a fanny pack to her brother. But instead of receiving the pack, he received a package of prescriptions purportedly signed by the doctor, lawyer Robert Mayer said last year. Ortiz-Butcher immediately alerted authorities.

Since then, investigators have uncovered a web of interrelated scams that, together, cost the federal government up to $7 million, documents show.

In February, the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Southern District of Florida charged Maria De Armas Suero, who had been a secretary at Ortiz-Butcher’s Island Clinic from March 2011 to September 2013, with 11 counts of conspiracy, fraud and aggravated identity theft.

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