Case Filed Following Recent Overdose Death, Part of National Enforcement Effort
A criminal complaint was unsealed this week in the District of Columbia charging a doctor with unlawful distribution of a controlled substance outside the scope of his professional practice. As detailed in court documents, the case relates to defendant Dr. Robert M. Cao prescribing various narcotic pain medications in the months and days leading up to a man’s May 31, 2021 overdose death.
The announcement was made by Acting U.S. Attorney Channing D. Phillips and Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Washington Field Office Criminal Division Wayne A. Jacobs.
Cao, 38, of Falls Church, Va., was arrested on Sept. 14 and made his initial appearance the following day before Magistrate Judge Zia M. Faruqui in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. His next hearing is scheduled for Oct. 28, 2021. The charge carries a statutory maximum of 20 years in prison and potential financial penalties.
Cao’s arrest is part of a nationwide initiative targeting health care fraud. The Department of Justice announced today that criminal charges have been filed against 138 defendants, including 42 doctors, nurses, and other licensed medical professionals, in 31 federal districts across the United States for their alleged participation in various healthcare fraud schemes that resulted in approximately $1.4 billion in alleged losses.
Nationwide, the charges target approximately $1.1 billion in fraud committed using telemedicine (the use of telecommunications technology to provide health care services remotely), $29 million in COVID-19 health care fraud, $133 million connected to substance abuse treatment facilities, or “sober homes,” and $160 million connected to other health care fraud and illegal opioid distribution schemes across the country.
“This nationwide enforcement action demonstrates that the Criminal Division is at the forefront of the fight against health care fraud and opioid abuse by prosecuting those who have exploited health care benefit programs and their patients for personal gain,” said Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “The charges announced today send a clear deterrent message and should leave no doubt about the department’s ongoing commitment to ensuring the safety of patients and the integrity of health care benefit programs, even amid a continued pandemic.”
“Health care fraud and opioid abuse have imposed enormous economic consequences and caused thousands of tragic deaths nationwide,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Phillips. “As today’s announcement shows, we are committed to using the full extent of the law to protect the public from those who illegally sell and prescribe opioids and other dangerous drugs as well as those who carry out schemes to defraud the public health system of taxpayer dollars.”
“Physicians are entrusted to care for our citizens and prescribe necessary medications in legitimate doctor-patient relationships,” said Special Agent in Charge Jacobs of the FBI Washington Field Office’s Criminal Division. “The FBI and our partners will continue to investigate and stop those medical professionals who provide illegal prescriptions and distribute controlled substance medications that fuel the opioid epidemic in our country. Not only are these actions criminal, but as we have seen all too often – they have deadly consequences.”
According to court documents, Cao is a physician who is licensed to practice medicine in the District of Columbia and Virginia. Between in or around at least Jan. 9, 2021, and continuing through in or around May 30, 2021, the documents allege, Cao knowingly and intentionally wrote a man identified in court documents as “V.C.” at least five prescriptions for oxycodone and hydrocodone, Schedule II controlled substances with a high potential for abuse.
On May 31, 2021, first responders were dispatched to a Fairfax, Va. residence in response to a 911 call for assistance regarding “V.C.,” after his girlfriend found him cold and non-responsive. He was pronounced deceased under suspicious circumstances.
A subsequent autopsy report documented the cause of death as acute combined oxycodone and ethanol poisoning. On the nightstand next to where “V.C.” was found were prescription bottles, including one containing Percocet (a brand name of the narcotic analgesic oxycodone/acetaminophen) pills filled on May 23, 2021. Cao was the prescribing doctor listed on the bottle.
Court filings also detail text message exchanges between Cao and “V.C.”, including discussions about Cao prescribing narcotic pain medications to “V.C.”; “V.C.” agreeing to give Cao a kickback on some of those pills; and meetings between the two, including a meeting in a parking lot on the night before the man’s death.
The charges in criminal complaints are merely allegations and every defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. If convicted of any offense, a defendant’s sentence will be determined by the court based on the advisory U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Anne P. McNamara of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia. The investigation into this matter was conducted by the FBI’s Washington Field Office in partnership with the Fairfax County, Va. Police Department.
Nationally, the cases announced today involving the illegal prescription and/or distribution of opioids involve a total of 19 defendants, including several charges against medical professionals and others who prescribed over 12 million doses of opioids and other prescription narcotics, while submitting over $14 million in false billings.
Prior to the charges announced as part of today’s nationwide enforcement action and since its inception in March 2007, the Health Care Fraud Strike Force, which maintains 15 strike forces operating in 24 districts, has charged more than 4,600 defendants who have collectively billed the Medicare program for approximately $23 billion. In addition to the criminal actions announced today, CMS, working in conjunction with HHS-OIG, announced 28 administrative actions to decrease the presence of fraudulent providers.Healthcare Fraud Homicide Hydrocodone Kickbacks Medically Unnecessary Opioid Crisis Oxycodone Patient Harm Provider Arrest Rx Fraud