Physician pleads guilty in $60M fraud scheme allegedly linked to patient deaths

A physician at Novus, a shuttered hospice provider in Frisco, Texas, has pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge for his role in a $60 million fraud scheme that federal prosecutors say involved fatally overdosing patients for profit, according to The Dallas Morning News.

Charles Raymond Leach, MD, pleaded guilty Sept. 11 to one count of conspiracy to commit healthcare fraud. He joined Novus in 2014 and became medical director before the company shut down in late 2015. He is one of 16 defendants charged in the healthcare fraud scheme in February 2017.

As part of his plea agreement, Dr. Leach, who surrendered his medical license in January, said he falsified documents and pre-signed blank prescription forms in bulk as part of the scheme. The pre-signed prescription forms were filled in by other people and used to obtain controlled substances, including morphine and hydromorphone. Novus nurses then allegedly used high doses of those drugs to hasten patients' deaths, according to The Dallas Morning News, which cited court documents.

After the hearing Sept. 11, Mick Mickelsen, Dr. Leach's attorney, said his client signed the blank prescriptions "out of convenience." He said his client had no knowledge the drugs were being used to accelerate patients' deaths, according to the report.

"He was horrified to find out," Mr. Mickelsen said. "He's responsible, though, for making that possible by breaking the rules when it comes to how those scripts were issued."

According to court documents, Novus' owner and CEO, Bradley Harris, and others allegedly enrolled as many people as possible in hospice care, even patients who were not eligible for the services. Once the patients were enrolled, they were given around-the-clock care, which Medicare reimbursed at a higher rate than routine care. If hospice patients were in continuous care for too long, Novus workers allegedly overmedicated them so they would die.

According to plea documents, Dr. Leach knew Mr. Harris often directed medical services, even though he had no medical license.

Dr. Leach is the fourth defendant to plead guilty in the case. Twelve other people under indictment in the case are tentatively set for trial in January.

More articles on legal and regulatory issues:

New York hospital says patient fraudulently kept $1.5M insurance payment
Dignity Health's timekeeping software denies nurses overtime pay, lawsuit alleges
Ex-New York hospital CEO's severance package focus of criminal probe


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