Francisco Patino, 66, isn’t your average doctor. His now-deleted Facebook page showed him wrestling alligators and showing off his buff physique next to photos of women wearing bikinis. He’s also the creator of the “Patino Diet”.
But his time at the office is coming to an end. Federal prosecutors just charged Patino for prescribing opioids to his patients while they received fraudulent spinal cord injections, so he could bill Medicare and reap the profits.
Quid Pro Quo
According to the Department of Justice, Patino was convicted on Wednesday of one count of conspiracy to commit healthcare fraud and wire fraud, two counts of healthcare fraud, one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States and pay and receive healthcare kickbacks, one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, and one count of money laundering.
Prosecutors say Patino “excessively” prescribed opioids to patients if they agreed to get spinal cord injections or make it look like they received the injections for billing purposes. He even withheld prescriptions for opioids if the patient refused the injections.
From January 2012 through July 2017, Patino billed Medicare for more spinal injections than any provider in the U.S. From 2016 to 2017, he prescribed more 30-milligram Oxycodone pills than every other provider in Michigan.
“Although these spinal injections were purportedly intended to treat chronic pain, evidence at trial demonstrated that Patino injected patients without regard to medical necessity. Evidence also revealed that if patients refused to accept the injections, Patino would withhold their prescriptions for opioids,” prosecutors said.
Many of these prescriptions were later resold on the street.
He also had a kickback scheme with at least one diagnostic lab. He received payments for sending the lab samples from patients. The facility then funneled money into bank accounts by others who distributed the money to Patino or spent it on his behalf.
Records show most of the money Patino earned from the scheme went towards promoting his specialized diet program and wellness book. The DOJ says he even paid fighters from the Ultimate Fighting Championship to promote his products and services. He also spent the money on jewelry, vacations, and cars.
Patino faces a maximum total penalty of life in prison. He is scheduled to be sentenced on Jan. 20, 2022.
He has spent the last three years in prison waiting for trial. During his last public appearance, he looked much slimmer than he had on social media.
Jurors deliberated for eight hours after a trial spread over five days.
Prosecutors also heard from several witnesses that said Patino allegedly traded drugs for sex with a stripper, hid profits from the illegal scheme, and kept $50,000 in cash under a mattress. Another person claimed that Patino ripped out his sick, 80-pound ex-wife’s feeding tube.
Cracking Down on Opioids
Patino’s case is one of many currently making their way through the courts. Federal prosecutors announced an Opioid Task Force in 2019.
The pandemic has only helped fuel the ongoing opioid crisis. Police say a “record number of Americans, nearly 70,000,” died of an opioid overdose last year. They added that drug overdose deaths overall increased by more than 30%, with 90,000 people dead in 2020 as a result.
“We are stopping corrupt medical professionals in their tracks,” said Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Polite, Jr.
On Friday, the DOJ announced criminal charges against 42 medical professionals and nearly 100 other people for alleged health care fraud, which amounted to an estimated $1.4 billion in losses.
Nineteen people were charged in opioid-related fraud cases by the DOJ, 16 of whom were doctors or other medical professionals.
“Holding to account those responsible for health care fraud and diversion of prescription drugs is a priority for DEA,” said Anne Milgram, administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration.
“These fraudulent activities prey on our most vulnerable – those in pain, the substance-addicted, and even the homeless – those who are most susceptible to promises of relief, recovery, or a new start,” Milgram added. “Not only do these schemes profit from desperation, but they often leave their victims even deeper in addiction.”