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Hundreds, some with Tampa Bay ties, facing federal charges in massive healthcare fraud bust

Posted at 11:14 PM, Sep 30, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-01 01:04:48-04

Hundreds of people – several with Tampa Bay ties – are facing federal charges following a nationwide healthcare fraud bust.

More than 300 people – more than 100 being doctors, nurses and other licensed medical professionals – are being charged in what federal investigators call the “largest health care fraud and opioid enforcement action” in the U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) history.

According to DOJ, the 345 suspects are accused of submitting more than $6 billion in fraudulent claims to federal health care programs and private insurers.

These fake claims were connected to the following:

  • $4.5 billion connected to telemedicine
  • $845 million connected to substance abuse treatment facilities, or sober homes
  • $806 million connected to other health care fraud and illegal opioid distribution schemes nationwide

Below are some of the suspects with Tampa Bay ties:

  • Michael Nolan, 47, of Tampa, pleaded guilty on July 31 to conspiracy to commit health care fraud for defrauding Medicare through the submission of medically unnecessary claims for DME and cancer genetic testing.
  • Samuel Friedman, 45, of Land O’ Lakes, was sentenced to four years in federal prison for conspiracy to commit health care fraud on September 4.
  • Christopher Ryan Helfrich, 30, of Tampa, was charged with conspiracy to commit health care fraud in September.
  • Hong Truong, 60, of Dunedin, pleaded guilty to distributing and dispensing a controlled substance outside of the scope of professional practice.
  • Jessica Evans, 34, of St. Petersburg, pleaded guilty for “her role in filling illegal opiate prescriptions,” according to DOJ.
  • Lucretia Mullan, 35, of St. Petersburg, was charged in connection with filling fake prescriptions at HP Pharmacy.
  • Patrice Jackson, 37, of Bradenton, was charged in connection with filling fake prescriptions at HP Pharmacy.
  • Steven Chun, 57, of Sarasota, was charged in a 16-count indictment on September 16.
  • Daniel Tondre, 50, of Tampa, was charged in a 16-count indictment on September 16.

DOJ’s announcement on Wednesday comes a little more than a week after I-Team Investigator Kylie McGivern first reported on Chun and Tondre’s arrests.

According to federal investigators, Chun owned and operated a Sarasota pain management practice, where he prescribed Subsys, a highly addictive and expensive fentanyl spray, to his patients in return for kickbacks paid by the manufacturer, Insys Therapeudics. Chun’s sales rep, Tondre, is accused of paying more than $275,000 in kickbacks to Chun in the form of “sham speaker fees and other benefits in return for Chun prescriving higher and larger quantities of Subsys,” DOJ said in a press release.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Sarasota pain management doctor, sales rep charged in healthcare fraud and kickback conspiracy

McGivern spoke with the Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General here in Tampa. He says the Tampa Bay area has played a major role in these healthcare fraud cases.

"It truly is massive. You wouldn't fail to underscore how significant this is. More than a billion dollars in Tampa Bay when you consider the fraud that has occurred in the last couple years," said Ryan Lynch, Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General.

Anyone with information on these fraud cases can click here to submit any tips or complaints.