NewsLocal NewsI-Team Investigations

Actions

'Bribe to prescribe': Jury finds Sarasota doctor, former Insys sales rep guilty in fraud kickback conspiracy

'Sham' speaker program led to more fentanyl spray prescriptions
Bribe to Prescribe.png
Posted at 6:42 AM, May 25, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-25 10:21:57-04

TAMPA, Fla. — A jury found a local doctor and former pharmaceutical sales representative guilty of conspiring to pay and receive kickbacks in connection with prescribing a highly addictive fentanyl spray.

Federal prosecutors called it a "bribe to prescribe" that began in 2012.

The ABC Action News I-Team first reported on Dr. Steven Chun in 2019 after discovering through federal data that the drugmaker Insys paid him more than $275,000 from 2013 to 2015, at one time putting him among the company's highest-paid doctors.

RELATED: Pharmaceutical companies promoting opioids pay big bucks to Tampa Bay area doctors

Insys Therapeutics makes the drug Subsys, a fentanyl spray. Insys paid Dr. Chun to talk and educate others about the opioid, but the federal government said the "speaker program" Chun was a part of was a "sham" designed to pump more of the medication to more patients and pad the pockets of sales reps and the company.

Subsys.png
Subsys, a fentanyl spray

Prosecutors argued a kickback conspiracy influenced the Sarasota pain management doctor's prescribing and was fueled by Insys and carried out by then sales representative Daniel Tondre, who had Dr. Chun in his territory.

RELATED:

The government said the payments were illegal kickbacks and bribes, with forged sign-in sheets, signatures copied and pasted, and low attendance, often only by friends and family at the speaker programs. As the payments came in, federal prosecutors showed that Chun's prescriptions went up.

In an emailed statement to the I-Team in 2019, Dr. Chun said, "These speaker presentations had absolutely no impact on my prescribing habits. I have always been dedicated to my patients and have provided them with the highest medical care."

Chun's attorney argued in closing statements that "he could not be bribed" and that he believed in the product, Subsys, and that the medication was in the best interest of his patients. She said he did not know Insys was tracking his prescriptions, paid for in whole or in part, by Medicare.

Dr. Steven Chun.png
Dr. Steven Chun

Tondre's attorney said in his closing argument that he "had no control over the kickback fraud scheme" and was under pressure by Insys.

Federal prosecutors showed a text in court, referring to Chun, that said, “He knows numbers are low, he is working on it.”

Daniel Tondre.png

RELATED: Insys founder John Kapoor sentenced for role in fraud, bribery scheme that contributed to opioid crisis

In its closing arguments in the case against Tondre and Chun, the government said, "This is about patients."

Walking out of the courthouse, the I-Team asked Chun if he had any message for his patients.

He said, "You know, I’m very disappointed with the verdict, so talk to my lawyer about it.”

Neither Chun nor Tondre's lawyers had any comment.

RELATED:

Chun and Tondre

  • Guilty for conspiring to pay and receive kickbacks and bribes, in the form of speaker fees, in return for prescribing the fentanly spray Subsys
  • Convicted on five separate counts of paying and receiving kickbacks on specific dates
  • Maximum penalty of five years in federal prison on the conspiracy count
  • Up to 10 years in prison for each substantive kickback violation

Tondre

  • Also convicted of two counts of identification fraud in connection with sham speaker events
  • Up to five years in prison on each identification fraud count

The U.S. is also seeking a money judgment in the amount of the proceeds of the kickbacks. A sentencing hearing has not yet been scheduled.

The FBI, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services — Office of Inspector General, the Defense Criminal Investigative Service, and the Opioid Fraud Abuse and Detection Unit at the United States Attorney’s Office investigated this case. The unit "focuses on opioid-related fraud and abuse by medical and health care professionals who have contributed to the prescription opioid epidemic."

HHS-OIG: Submit a complaint.