An Indian-American pharmacist has been sentenced to 17 years in prison by a U.S. court for a major healthcare fraud worth $57 million.

Babubhai (Bob) Patel, 50, who owned and operated 26 pharmacies across metro Detroit, was sentenced in Michigan court, five months after a jury convicted him of billing the government for more than $57 million for painkillers that were medically unnecessary or never provided.

The government said he paid doctors to write the orders and had recruiters offering cash to poor people in exchange for their Medicare or Medicaid number.

He was arrested on August 2, 2011.

In addition to 17 years of imprisonment, the court also ordered Mr. Patel to pay restitution to the Medicaid and Medicare programs in the amount of $17.3 million, and restitution to Blue Cross Blue Shield in the amount of $1.5 million.

In sentencing the defendant, the court told the defendant that “what you have done is reprehensible.”

The criminal conduct engaged in by other healthcare fraud violators sentenced by the court was “small scale compared to this.”

According to evidence presented during a six-week jury trial concluding in August 2012, Mr. Patel between 2006 and 2011, billed Medicare and Medicaid more than $57 million.

At least 25 per cent of those billings were for drugs that were either medically unnecessary or never dispensed.

Additional amounts were fraudulently billed to private insurers such as Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.

The pharmacies operated on a business model that paid kickbacks to physicians in exchange for writing prescriptions for expensive medications, the Justice Department said.

The affiliated doctors would also write prescriptions for controlled substances, without regard to medical necessity, which would be filled at the pharmacies and distributed to paid “patients” and patient recruiters.

The expensive non-controlled medications would be billed but not dispensed.

Earlier this week, the U.S. court sentenced an Indian Canadian (Brijesh Rawal) and two Indian nationals — Ashwini Sharma and Lokesh Tayal — to 68 months of imprisonment for their participation as pharmacists in these criminal offenses.

They will be deported to their country of their citizenship upon the completion of their sentences.

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