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2 doctors charged for writing unneeded prescriptions, falsely diagnosing patients with pseudobulbar affect

Posted at 11:50 AM, Sep 26, 2019
and last updated 2019-09-26 11:50:05-04

CLEVELAND — Two local physicians have been charged in federal court, accused of writing unneeded prescriptions and falsifying patient records in return for hundreds of thousands of dollars and other compensation in kickbacks from two pharmaceutical representatives for a company that makes a drug to treat a condition that causes sudden, uncontrollable fits of laughter and crying.

“Kickbacks are to ethics like a magnet to a compass — you lose your direction,” Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said. “Imagine trusting your doctor to do what’s right for your health and finding out he’s instead doing what’s right for his wallet. This is much more than a financial crime.”

Deepak Raheja, 63, of Hudson and Bhupinder Sawhny, 70, of Gates Mills have been indicted for conspiracy to solicit, receive, offer and pay health care kickbacks, according to the U.S. District Attorney’s Office.

Raheja is a doctor specializing in psychiatry and neurology. He practices medicine out of his office in the 2300 block of West 14th Street in Cleveland. Sawhny is a doctor specializing in neurosurgery. His office is located in the 6700 block of Ridge Road in Parma.

Gregory Hayslette, 43, of Aurora and Frank Mazzucco, 41, of Dublin, are also facing the same charges, according to the U.S. District Attorney’s Office.

Hayslette is a sales rep for Avanir Pharmaceuticals, Inc, and Mazzucco is his supervisor and a regional business manager for the company, authorities said.

According to attorneys, the doctors wrote prescriptions for a drug named Nuedexta—a medication designed to treat pseudobulbar affect, more commonly known as PBA. Individuals with pseudobulbar affect suffer fits of involuntary and sudden uncontrollable laughter and crying.

Attorneys state that as part of the conspiracy, Hayslette and Mazzuco would arrange speaking events for the two physicians that had “little to no educational value,” as well as providing the doctors’ offices with other compensation such as food.

It’s also alleged that Sawhny took payment from Hayslette in the form of free firearms training and office equipment for pushing the prescriptions to patients. In return, Sawhny gave the pharmaceutical reps access to confidential patient information.

“We all trust our doctors to make decisions based on what is best for the patient, not based on which sales representative is paying them money on the side and springing for steak dinners,” U.S. Attorney Justin Herdman said. “Doctors and the pharmaceutical sales reps who don’t follow the rules will be held accountable for their actions.”

Authorities said that Raheja was paid around $330,000 for writing more than 10,000 Nuedexta prescriptions and appearing at hundreds of speaking engagements. Between 2011 and 2016, Raheja wrote the highest number of Nuedexta prescriptions in the country.

It’s alleged that both Raheja and Sawhny submitted billing to insurance companies for Nuedexta prescriptions for patients who didn’t actually have PBA. Additionally, Raheja “falsely diagnosed patients with PBA, and recorded and caused the recording of false symptoms in patient records to support a diagnosis of PBA,” according to authorities.

Hayslette is accused of using private patient information to facilitate “the submission of false diagnoses of PBA on prior authorizations to Medicaid Managed Care Organizations.”

According to attorneys, both doctors created fictitious medical authorizations that “reflected diagnoses of PBA for patients that did not actually have PBA."

“These doctors will now answer to a court of law for financially benefitting from lucrative speaking engagements and writing questionable prescriptions for one medication,” FBI Special Agent in Charge Eric B. Smith said. “The FBI will continue collaborative efforts to root out healthcare fraud and hold those responsible accountable for their fraudulent, unethical behavior."

Anyone who was a patient of the doctors and believes they may be a victim should call the FBI Cleveland Division at 216-622-6963.