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'Mastermind' of opioid scheme bought island, stashed millions overseas

Robert Snell
The Detroit News
Rajendra Bothra

Detroit — The accused mastermind of one of the nation's largest health-care fraud schemes amassed a $35 million fortune, including an island, a mansion and an overseas bank account stuffed with cash.

The riches of Dr. Rajendra Bothra emerged Friday as a federal judge weighed whether to release the pain clinic doctor on bond pending trial in a nearly $500 million conspiracy. The conspiracy involves Bothra and five other doctors who are accused of fueling the nation's opioid epidemic, cheating Medicare and subjecting patients to needless, painful back injections, prosecutors said.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Mona Majzoub delayed until Wednesday whether to release the 77-year-old Bloomfield Hills doctor, who shuffled back to Wayne County Jail in handcuffs and ankle chains, leaving his tearful wife and sobbing daughter in court.

The detention hearing featured dueling portraits. The government called him a flight risk involved in a dangerous drug scheme who subjected as many as 70 patients a day to unnecessary back injections, and a man who lied about assets, lied about international travel, lied about whether he had relatives in India and lied about his vast business interests. The money and international ties could facilitate a flight from justice, Assistant U.S. Attorney Brandy McMillion argued. 

Bothra's lawyer portrayed the pain clinic owner as a respected doctor and benevolent man who adopted a daughter from Mother Teresa's orphanage in India. Bothra's indictment has drawn attention in the doctor's native country, where in 1999, Bothra received India's highest civilian honor, known as the Padmashri.

"He's not an impulsive person and has no ability to leave," defense lawyer Jeffrey Crapko said. "He has no inclination to, either. He's ready to defend himself and wants to."

New details about the proceeds of the alleged actions emerged one day after Bothra and five others were charged with cheating Medicare, Medicaid and Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Michigan during the alleged $464 million scheme that ran from 2013 until last month.

During that time, the doctors forced patients to undergo painful medical procedures in exchange for illegally receiving more than 13 million doses of prescription pain medication, including OxyContin, Vicodin, hydrocodone and Percocet, the government alleges.

It was a lucrative scheme, the prosecutor argued.

Bothra has $7.6 million in a retirement account. He owns a $1.6 million home and another home — listed for sale for $1.9 million — on a private island he owns in Lotus Lake in Waterford Township.

Bothra's net worth was unclear Friday

He told the government he was worth $10.4 million

Bothra, however, failed to tell the government about his real estate company that owns commercial and residential properties that are worth a combined $3 million, the prosecutor said.

He also failed to tell court officials about an Indian bank account with more than $1.2 million and three trips to India in recent years, the prosecutor said.

Bothra was nervous, his lawyer countered, not deceitful. The doctor paid taxes on the overseas account, he added.

His lawyer pegged Bothra's net worth at as much as $35 million.

All but approximately $8 million has been frozen by federal investigators.

Bothra claimed he had no surviving relatives in India. But after additional questioning late Friday, his wife told court officials Bothra had eight siblings in India and several in-laws.

Bothra's lawyer pushed for bond, noting other doctors charged in the case have been released on $10,000 unsecured bond.

Bothra is different, the prosecutor said.

"This defendant has substantially higher assets and has foreign assets, which gives him the means to survive," McMillion said.

The dollars and drugs involved make the alleged health care fraud conspiracy one of the largest in Michigan history, and one of the largest nationwide.

Bothra is facing 17 charges, including health care fraud conspiracy, conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute drugs, and aiding and abetting the unlawful distribution of drugs. The drug charges are 20-year felonies while the health care charges are punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

The alleged scheme was focused within three pain clinics in Macomb County. They are the Pain Center USA in Warren and Eastpointe, and Interventional Pain Center in Warren.

Bothra's clinics "sought to bill insurance companies for the maximum number of services and procedures possible with no regard to the patients’ needs," prosecutors alleged.

The other doctors charged are:

  • Dr. Eric Backos, 65, of Bloomfield Hills
  • Dr. Ganiu Edu, 50, of Southfield
  • Dr. David Lewis, 41, of Detroit
  • Dr. Christopher Russo, 50, of Birmingham
  • Dr. Ronald Kufner, 68, of Ada

The doctors all worked in various capacities at Bothra's clinics and lured patients by prescribing opioids, the indictment alleges.

After arriving at the clinics, patients received the pain medications and were forced to undergo treatments that included injections, according to the government.

The conspiracy cost Medicare more than $182.5 million, $272.6 million to Medicaid and $9.2 million to Blue Cross/Blue Shield, according to the indictment. 

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Twitter: @robertsnellnews