Pharmacist pleads guilty to healthcare fraud conspiracy

TAMPA, Fla. --

Acting United States Attorney W. Stephen Muldrow announced April 12, 2017, that Carlos Mazariegos, 40, of St. Petersburg, Fla., has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit healthcare fraud. He faces a maximum penalty of five years in federal prison.

The case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Department Health and Human Services - Office of Inspector General, the Defense Investigative Service, the U.S. Air Force Office of Special Investigations and the Drug Enforcement Administration.

According to court documents, Mazariegos was a licensed pharmacist who co-owned Lifecare Pharmacy in Pinellas County, Fla., with his business partner, Benjamin Nundy. In 2014, Mazariegos, Nundy, and Dr. Anthony Baldizzi, a licensed physician, agreed that Lifecare would pay Baldizzi illegal kickbacks for prescriptions of compounded medications written by Baldizzi and filled at Lifecare.

In May 2014, Mazariegos, acting on behalf of Lifecare, entered into a marketing agreement with Centurion Compounding Inc., a marketing firm located in Pasco County, Fla., that employed sales representatives to market compounded medications, specifically creams for pain and scars, to beneficiaries of health care plans, especially TRICARE. These compounded creams typically ranged in price from approximately $900 to $21,000 for a one-month supply.

Between May and November 2014, Centurion directed patients it had recruited and the physicians within its network to send all of their compounded creams prescriptions to Centurion. Centurion then transmitted these prescriptions to Lifecare to be filled.

Mazariegos, Nundy and the principals of Centurion agreed to pay illegal kickbacks to Baldizzi equal to approximately 10 percent of the after-cost amount of each claim paid by TRICARE and other health care benefit programs as a result of compounded medications prescriptions written by Baldizzi and filled by Lifecare, for Centurion-recruited patients. For example, in December 2014, Mazariegos wrote a check to a car dealership for $71,900, funded with the proceeds from the operation of Lifecare, to pay for a BMW for Baldizzi in partial satisfaction of the kickbacks owed to him.

Lifecare received approximately $5.3 million from TRICARE for claims made for compounded medications prescribed by Baldizzi resulting from this illegal kickback relationship. Mazariegos and Nundy also billed Medicare $1,064,729 for compounded medications that Lifecare made with bulk powder ingredients when they knew that Medicare only reimbursed for such medications when they were made using crushed tablets.

Nundy is scheduled to plead guilty to engaging in a conspiracy to commit healthcare fraud at a hearing on April 26, 2017.

A grand jury returned an indictment charging Baldizzi with conspiracy, healthcare fraud, receiving health care kickbacks and engaging in illegal monetary transactions. The case is currently set for trial in May 2017.

It’s being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Mandy Riedel and Megan Kistler.

(Editor’s Note: AFOSI Special Agent Will Glidewell was the lead OSI Agent working with the joint task force on this investigation.)