Houston, Texas - A Houston-area man who posed as a physician at an unregistered pain clinic was found guilty today for his role at a “pill mill” at which he and his co-conspirators illegally prescribed hundreds of thousands of doses of opioids and other controlled substances.
Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Ryan Patrick of the Southern District of Texas and Special Agent in Charge Will R. Glaspy of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) Houston Division made the announcement.
After a five-day day jury trial, Muhammad Arif, 61, of Katy, Texas, was found guilty of one count of conspiracy to unlawfully distribute and dispense controlled substances and three counts of unlawfully distributing and dispensing controlled substances. Arif is expected to be sentenced on a date not yet determined by U.S. District Judge Alfred H. Bennett of the Southern District of Texas, who presided over the trial.
According to the evidence presented at trial, from September 2015 through February 2016, Arif conspired with a doctor and with the owner of Aster Medical Clinic of Rosenberg, Texas, which operated as an illegal pill mill, to unlawfully prescribe controlled substances to patients. The evidence showed that Arif was not licensed to practice medicine in the United States, but posed as a physician at Aster Medical Clinic, saw patients as if he were a physician and wrote prescriptions for patients on prescription pads that had been pre-signed by the doctor, Arif’s co-conspirator.
Through this scheme, Aster Medical Clinic dispensed prescriptions for over 200,000 dosage units of hydrocodone, a Schedule II controlled substance, and over 145,000 dosage units of carisoprodol, a Schedule IV controlled substance. The combination of hydrocodone and carisoprodol is a dangerous drug cocktail with no known medical benefit, the evidence showed.
Trial evidence showed that Aster Medical Clinic issued unlawful prescriptions for controlled substances to over 40 people on its busiest days. “Crew leaders” brought numerous people to pose as patients at Aster Medical Clinic and paid for their visits in order to obtain prescriptions for controlled substances that the crew leaders would then sell on the street. Aster Medical Clinic charged approximately $250 for each patient visit, and required payment in cash, the evidence showed.
To date, two co-conspirators have pleaded guilty based on their roles in the unlawful prescription scheme at Aster Medical Clinic. Baker Niazi, 48, of Sugar Land, Texas, and Waleed Khan, 47, of Parker, Texas, are currently awaiting sentencing before U.S. District Judge Alfred H. Bennett of the Southern District of Texas.
The case was investigated by the DEA, and was brought as part of the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, under the supervision of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant Deputy Chief Aleza Remis and Trial Attorney Alexis Gregorian of the Fraud Section.
The Fraud Section leads the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, which is part of a joint initiative between the Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to focus their efforts to prevent and deter fraud and enforce current anti-fraud laws around the country. Since its inception in March 2007, the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, which maintains 14 strike forces operating in 23 districts, has charged nearly 4,000 defendants who have collectively billed the Medicare program for more than $14 billion.