Pharmacist pleads guilty to healthcare kickback conspiracy

The U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. Attorney's Office for the Middle District of Florida is prosecuting the conspiracy to pay kickbacks case in connection with TRICARE, involving co-owners of Lifecare Pharmacy in Pinellas County, Fla. (U.S. Dept. of Justice graphic)

The U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. Attorney's Office for the Middle District of Florida is prosecuting the conspiracy to pay kickbacks case in connection with TRICARE, involving co-owners of Lifecare Pharmacy in Pinellas County, Fla. (U.S. Dept. of Justice graphic)

TAMPA, Fla. --

Acting United States Attorney W. Stephen Muldrow announced that Benjamin Nundy, 39 of Ruskin, Fla., pled guilty April 26, 2017, 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 of Health and Human Services - Office of Inspector General, the Defense Criminal Investigative Service, the U.S. Air Force Office of Special Investigations and the Drug Enforcement Administration.

According to court documents, Nundy was a licensed pharmacist who co-owned Lifecare Pharmacy in Pinellas County with his business partner, Carlos Mazariegos. In 2014, Nundy, Mazariegos 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 in Pasco County that employed sales representatives to market compounded creams for pain and scars to beneficiaries of healthcare plans, especially TRICARE. These compounded creams typically ranged in price from $900 to $21,000 for a one-month supply.

Between May and November 2014, Centurion directed patients it recruited and the physicians within its network to send all of their compounded cream 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 healthcare benefit programs as a result of compounded medication 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 kickbacks that Lifecare and Centurion 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.

Mazariegos pleaded guilty to engaging in a conspiracy to commit healthcare fraud on April 10, 2017.

A grand jury returned an indictment charging Baldizzi with conspiracy, receiving healthcare kickbacks and engaging in illegal monetary transactions. The case is currently set for trial in January 2018.

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 to the larger task force while assigned to Detachment 340, MacDill Air Force Base, Fla. Other Special Agents who contributed significantly to the many individual task force investigations included Taylor Wrenn, Helen Luong, Jackeline Gabuardi (retired), Ryan Music, John Flowers, John Gordon, Amanda Miller, Alexandro Banks and Holly Young.)