COVID-19 doctor charged in multimillion-dollar fraud case

Robert Snell
The Detroit News

Detroit — Federal prosecutors charged a Shelby Township doctor with health care fraud involving phony COVID-19 treatments, one week after FBI agents raided his clinic.

Dr. Charles Donald Mok II, 56, of Allure Medical Spa used the COVID-19 pandemic to bill insurers for vitamin C infusions fraudulently presented as COVID-19 treatments and preventative measures, according to a 47-page criminal complaint unsealed Tuesday. He also failed to utilize appropriate protocols at the clinic to minimize the spread of the virus, prosecutors said.

Allure Medical on 26 Mile in Shelby Township, Michigan, on April 28, 2020.

Mok appears to be the first person charged in Metro Detroit with a crime during a federal crackdown on people trying to exploit and capitalize on the global pandemic.

Court records portray Mock as trying to seize an opportunity to steal patients during the pandemic, calling doctors "cowards" for shuttering rival clinics and running his own clinic with employees who kept working despite testing positive for the virus.

"Dr. Mok's alleged behavior goes beyond taking advantage of fears surrounding COVID-19 to profit illegally," said Steven D’Antuono, special agent in charge of the FBI office in Detroit, in a statement Tuesday.

Mok made an initial appearance today in federal court on charges punishable by up to 10 years in prison and was released on $10,000 unsecured bond.

While free on bond, Mok is barred from billing Medicare or Medicaid for any service. He also cannot perform any nonessential or non-life-supporting procedures in states with shutdown restrictions.

His lawyer, Mark Kriger, declined comment Tuesday.

He touted a variety of treatments on YouTube and in personal appearances on local TV stations.

The medical and spa facility at 26 Mile and Van Dyke focuses on vascular surgeries, hormone replacement and stem cell therapy. It also has a skincare and weight loss clinic and an urgent care, according to its website. 

Allure operates 26 outpatient clinics specializing in varicose vein treatments in eight states and has at least six clinics in Michigan.

"At a time like this, our nation cannot handle the burden on our hospital systems, ER doctors and nurses when they are already at capacity and overloaded," according to Allure's website.

Federal court records chronicle a short-term investigation launched as deaths and confirmed cases escalated in Michigan.

Earlier this month, the FBI and investigators with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services started probing allegations involving health care fraud related to varicose vein treatments at Mok’s clinic.

A cooperating witness who worked at Allure gave investigators documents and also secretly recorded conversations, according to the complaint.

The witness said Allure engaged in a scheme to defraud the U.S. by submitting fraudulent claims to Medicare for varicose vein treatments.

“Claims were false and fraudulent because they were for services that were unreasonable, unnecessary, or that simply did not occur as Allure reported to have occurred,” Health and Human Services Special Agent Steven Warren wrote in an affidavit attached to the criminal complaint.

The witness also told investigators Allure started offering high-dose vitamin C infusions to patients at risk of contracting COVID-19 and to those who had tested positive for the virus.

Mok marketed the treatments in a video, saying the infusions were being used at hospitals nationwide to treat the most advanced COVID-19-related diseases for people who had tested positive for the virus, the agent wrote.

Mok said the infusions reduced the duration and severity of COVID-19 symptoms, according to the court filing.

“In other statements, he recognizes that vitamin C has not been approved by the FDA or any other agency or recognized medical association to treat COVID-19,” Warren wrote.

On April 20, the cooperating witness gave investigators internal records showing Allure had submitted at least 98 claims to insurance companies, including Medicare, for the infusion therapy services, according to the government.

Mok’s billings place him in the 99th percentile in the U.S. for potentially cosmetic-related procedures, according to the agent.

Since January 2018, Allure has billed Medicare for $41.4 million worth of treatments and been paid $12.5 million.

According to Medicare data for the last six months of 2019, Allure was paid $3.1 million for a particular treatment – or more than five times as much as the next highest practice nationwide.

Treatments at Mok’s clinics continued despite Gov. Gretchen Whitmer last month imposing temporary restrictions on non-essential medical procedures, according to investigators.

Mok’s clinics performed vein treatments and cosmetic procedures on hundreds of patients since Whitmer issued the restrictions, according to the government.

“Mok seeks to capitalize on the fact that Allure’s competitors have closed their offices and see this as an opportunity to steal competitors’ patients. In ordering Allure’s operations to continue, Mok and Allure is subjecting Allure’s patients to COVID-19 and risk increasing the spread of the virus,” according to the complaint.

Mok and the cooperating witness participated in a video conference after Whitmer issued the order last month.

During the meeting, someone suggested Allure’s treatments were non-essential and that the governor’s order applied to the clinic, according to the agent.

Mok was told competitors were closing their vein practices.

“Mok responded saying the other practices were ‘cowards’ and the COVID-19 pandemic is an ‘opportunity to capture the market,’” Warren wrote.

In a YouTube video, Mok said his clinic is trying to limit COVID exposure but called worst-case scenarios about infections and deaths “hype,” according to the complaint.

In another YouTube video, Mok threatened providers with malpractice lawsuits if they didn’t continue treating patients, Warren wrote.

Whitmer’s order restricting businesses took effect March 24. Over the next three weeks, Allure treated 950 patients.

“The clinics’ waiting rooms were full of patients sitting next to each other and not adhering to the six-foot social distancing recommendation by the Centers for Disease Control,” according to the complaint. “Employees are working without proper PPE and are in close contact with each other and patients during examinations and treatments. The majority of Allure’s patient census are patients over 50 years of age and have other health problems.”

Five clinic employees have tested positive for COVID-19 yet continued to work and treat patients, according to the cooperating witness.

Twitter: @robertsnellnews