Michigan doctor charged in health care fraud, money laundering scheme

The Detroit News

Federal authorities have levied more charges against a Metro Detroit doctor accused of heading a multi-million-dollar health care fraud scheme and spending the proceeds sponsoring mixed martial arts fighters.

According to a superseding indictment unsealed Wednesday, from 2008 until his 2018 arrest, Dr. Frank Patino "induced patients to come to his clinics by offering unnecessary prescriptions for addictive opioids, of which he ultimately prescribed over 2.2 million dosage units of medically unnecessary controlled substances, including fentanyl, oxycodone and oxymorphone."

Prosecutors, court records and social-media posts portray Patino as an alligator-wrestling, steroid-buying, frequently shirtless fraudster who spent ill-gotten gains on mixed martial arts fighters and a vanity diet program.

The Wayne County resident, who owned and operated numerous pain clinics and laboratories in Michigan, prescribed opioids to Medicare beneficiaries, some of whom were addicted to narcotics, the U.S. Department of Justice said in a statement Thursday.

He also was the state's top prescriber of oxycodone 30 mg, the powerful opioid painkiller, from 2016-17 and "forced patients to submit to unnecessary and sometimes painful back injections and other procedures in exchange for the opioid prescriptions as part of a scheme to defraud Medicare of over $120 million," according to the release.

The superseding indictment alleges that Patino continue even after Medicare told him the injections violated its rules and following a consent order with the state that his prescription of opioids “constitute(d) a violation of the public health code.” 

The physician also is accused of ordering unnecessary urine drug testing in exchange for illegal kickbacks as well as committing money laundering in connection with promoting the “Patino Diet” plan, which was reportedly described as the “next Atkins diet.”  

"In order to conceal and disguise his illegal health care fraud scheme, Patino allegedly paid for the authorship and publication of a book touting the diet plan, entitled 'The Age of Globesity,' and paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in order to promote the diet plan and appear as the exclusive medical expert on a nationally syndicated television show," the DOJ said.

The superseding indictment alleges Patino laundered the health care fraud and kickback money by "entering into sham contracts or employment relationships to pay others on his behalf to sponsor boxers, mixed martial artists and Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) combatants, including UFC world champions and hall of famers," then withdrawing his proceeds to live an extravagant lifestyle with luxury clothes, real estate and international travel, including multiple trips to the Cayman Islands. 

The 65-year-old faces one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud and wire fraud, one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering and one count of money laundering. That's in addition to two counts of health care fraud and one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States, and pay and receive health care kickbacks that were charged in the initial indictment in 2018.

The case is pending before U.S. District Judge Denise Page Hood.  A  trial is scheduled to begin April 7.

Patino's charges are related to a broader investigation into the Tri-County Network of pain clinics in Michigan and Ohio, which involves more than $300 million in alleged Medicare fraud and the alleged distribution of at least 6.6 million doses of controlled substances. So far, 22 defendants, including 12 physicians, have previously pleaded guilty or been found guilty at trial, prosecutors said.