DEL RIO, Texas – A licensed primary care physician along with three members of his clinical staff and his office manager were sentenced Thursday for unlawful distribution of controlled substances and Medicaid fraud.
According to court documents, Dr. Alfonso Luevano, 53, of Carrizo Springs prescribed large amounts of controlled substances, primarily Schedule II opioids, on a regular basis with little or no medical examination. He also directed mid-level practitioners to provide patients with prescriptions using prescription pads that he had pre-signed. According to data from the Texas prescription management program, Luevano and his mid-level practitioners issued at least 20,000 controlled substance prescriptions between March 2016 and March 2018. Hydrocodone alone comprised at least 50 percent of the prescriptions. The investigation also revealed several instances of Luevano prescribing patients a potentially lethal combination of an opioid, a benzodiazepine and a muscle relaxer. These illegal prescriptions resulted in multiple patient overdoses, at least two of which were fatal.
Dr. Luevano was sentenced to 121 months in prison followed by three years of supervised release and a $10,000 fine. He also agreed to forfeit his Texas medical license and to sell his medical office building to pay the restitution and fine.
Nurse practitioners Sara Barker, 47, and Rafael Santana, 49, along with licensed physician’s assistant Richard Marquez, 62, were also sentenced. Each had previously pleaded guilty to facilitating the unlawful prescriptions by seeing patients and then directing that the pre-signed prescription pads be filled out with controlled substances. Barker was sentenced to 18 months in prison; Santana received a one-year sentence; and Marquez received two years. Each will also pay a $5,000 fine.
In addition, office manager Ofelia Martinez, 53, was sentenced on a single count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud. In her plea agreement, Martinez admitted that she had overbilled the Texas Medicaid program for the appointments conducted by the mid-level practitioner defendants by billing them as if Dr. Luevano had personally performed the appointment. Martinez was sentenced to 30 months in prison and ordered to pay $127,421 in restitution to the Medicaid program. Dr. Luevano also agreed in his plea to be jointly and severally liable for that same amount.
“The rampant and unchecked distribution of unnecessary opioid prescriptions by medical practitioners throughout the country has caused an untold amount of harm over the years,” said U.S. Attorney Jaime Esparza of the Western District of Texas. “Not only did the defendants here cause hundreds of thousands of pills to be distributed into a vulnerable community, but they also charged the cost to federal insurance plans. As shown by this case, the Justice Department continues to take the issue seriously and will pursue criminal action against medical professionals where warranted.”
“Luevano’s excessive prescribing of opioids, often times without the benefit of a medical examination, had a total disregard to patient safety and the law,” said Special Agent in Charge Daniel C. Comeaux of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Houston Division. “In just one year, Luevano illegally prescribed thousands of opioids in our communities. Relentless efforts by our Diversion investigators, Special Agents and prosecutors ended Luevano’s greed that has contributed to the ongoing opioid epidemic. DEA will continue to bring to justice those who misuse their prescribing authority for personal gains.”
The DEA’s Drug Diversion Control Division and the Texas Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit investigated the case.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Justin Chung and Joshua Banister prosecuted this case with AUSA Antonio Franco handling the forfeiture component.