TAMPA, Fla. — A Sarasota pain management doctor and a sales representative were both charged in healthcare fraud and kickback conspiracy.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), 57-year-old doctor Steven Chun owned a pain management medical practice in Sarasota. He prescribed a large volume of opioids, including fentanyl.
Daniel Tondre, 50, worked as a sales representative for Insys Therapeutics, Inc., that manufactured and sold Subsys, an expensive form of liquid fentanyl.
Insys' sales reps were paid with sales commissions based on paid prescriptions of Subsys. Tondre's sales territory included Chun's practice.
Insys actively marketed Subsys to doctors like Chun to increase sales, according to DOJ. Insys also used sham speaker programs to disguise kickbacks and bribes paid to high-prescribing doctors, like Chun, DOJ said in a press release.
Tondre arranged speaker programs that were only attended by family and friends, or repeat attendees and included falsified signatures of attendees, according to DOJ's press release.
The indictment states Chun's speaker programs for Insys "were documented using false and fraudulent Speaker Program sign-in sheets that included names and forged signatures of licensed practitioners, including Chun's employees, who did not attend and were not present, and whose identifying information was used without lawful authority."
Insys also bribed large Subsys-prescribers like Chun by hiring individuals who were often close to the doctors to work as an Insys liaison to approve insurance forms for Subsys, including those submitted for Medicare patients, DOJ said in a press release.
Below is the court document detailing the allegations against Chun and Tondre:
Last year, I-Team Investigator Kylie McGivern reviewed federal data and found major pharmaceutical companies promoting opioids pumped tens of thousands of dollars into the pockets of Tampa Bay area doctors in a year's time. Analyzing data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the I-Team found the payments for speaking fees, consulting work and meals to local doctors in 2018.
The I-Team contacted Chun at the time, after discovering he was one of the top five paid doctors on the payroll for Insys from 2013 to 2016, the same years he ran a pain clinic in Sarasota.
Although Chun accepted payments from Insys for speaking engagements, it wasn't until Wednesday that prosecutors alleged he accepted bribes from the company.
DOJ says Chun was paid more than $275,000 in illegal kickbacks and bribes from Insys in connection with the sham speaker programs.
In an emailed statement back in August 2019, after the I-Team contacted Chun to talk about the hundreds of thousands of dollars he received from Insys for speaking engagements, he 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."
Read the full statement from Dr. Chun below:
"I have been a licensed medical doctor in Florida with an expertise in anesthesiology and interventional pain management for almost 25 years. Throughout my career, I was invited to participate in various physician speaker presentations organized by pharmaceutical companies. The purpose of these presentations was to educate others in the healthcare industry about certain pharmaceutical products that I felt could significantly benefit patient care, including fewer side effects, quicker and more extensive pain relief, and evolving delivery methods.
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. At all times, I prescribed medications that were medically necessary for my patient’s care and based upon what was best for each individual patient, which meant considering every patient preference for a certain medication, every patient’s reaction to a particular drug, the number of side effects, and the most economical choice for each and every patient. The patient has always been and will always be my first priority.
If a company that I spoke for attempted to influence doctors to write prescriptions via speaker fees, I can assure you that I was not one of those doctors. I became a physician to help people and for the love of medicine. That is and has always been my only motivation. Throughout my 25-year career, I have never received any form of reprimand from the Florida Board of Medicine or any other regulatory agency. I spent my career treating patients with chronic pain that severely limited their ability to perform even the most basic activities. I dedicated my career to helping my patients achieve some form of relief and a better quality of life. I am proud of this legacy.”
- Chun and Tondre were charged with 16 counts of conspiring to pay and receive kickbacks in connections with prescribing a fentanyl spray.
- Chun was also charged with five counts of soliciting and receiving kickbacks in the form of speaker fees.
- Tondre was also charged with five counts of offering and paying the speaker fees to Chun when he worked as a Insys sales rep.
- Chun and Tondre are also being charged with five counts of identification fraud in connection with speaker events.
If Chun and Tondre are convicted on all counts, they each face a max of five years in prison on the conspiracy count, up to five years on the identification fraud count and up to 10 years for each kickback violation.
This case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the 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.
To submit a complaint with the Department of Health and Human Services-Office of the Inspector General about potential fraud, waste, abuse and mismanagement in Medicare, Medicaid and more than 300 programs of HHS, visit this website.
In May 2019, a federal jury found Insys' founder John Kapoor guilty of federal racketeering conspiracy charges for his role in a nationwide scheme to bribe doctors to prescribe the company’s opioid medication SUBSYS, ABC News reports.
Then, earlier this year, Kapoor was sentenced to five-plus years in prison for his role in a fraud and bribery scheme that contributed to the nationwide opioid crisis in the United States.