DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Two North Texas doctors were sentenced to a combined 23 years in federal prison for healthcare fraud Thursday, Dec. 2, federal officials said.

According to the office of US Attorney for the Northern District of Texas Chad E. Meacham, a federal jury found Dr. Mark E. Gibbs and Dr. Laila Hirjee guilty of conspiracy to commit healthcare fraud and other charges.

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Gibbs and Hirjee helped a local hospice agency called Novus Health Services defraud Medicare by illegally admitting patients and submitting false claims for hospice services, among other things. Both doctors were the Medical Directors of Novus.

A nurse, Tammie Little, was also found guilty of committing fraud.

Novus CEO Bradley Harris plead guilty before the trial and testified against his former employees.

Several other codefendants, including Harris’ wife, Amy, who served as the Vice President of Patient Services, also plead guilty before the trial and were sentenced between two and 14 years in federal prison.

Harris said that instead of relying on the expertise of licensed medical professionals, he and Novus nurses determined which patients would be admitted to or discharged from hospice care as well as which drugs and dosages they would receive.

Dr. Hirjee and Dr. Gibbs illegally certified that they had examined these patients face-to-face, but no such consultations actually occurred.

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Witnesses also testified that Dr. Hirjee and Dr. Gibbs illegally prescribed Schedule II controlled substances, including morphine, hydromorphone, and fentanyl, by pre-signing blank prescriptions and giving them to Harris and others to prescribe controlled substances without physician oversight.

As Director of Operations Melanie Murphey testified on day five of trial, “I was the doctor.”

Medicare eventually suspended payment to Novus over concerns about billing, but Harris, Gibbs, and others moved patients and employees to a new hospice company and continued to bill Medicare for hospice services.

In total, Medicare and Medicaid paid Novus about $40 million dollars before the companies were shut down.

“These doctors allowed Bradley Harris, an accountant with no medical expertise, to dispense controlled substances like candy, with little to no medical oversight,” said U.S. Attorney Chad Meacham. “They claimed to have had hands-on experience with hospice patients, when in fact, they’d entrusted life-or-death medical decisions to untrained businesspeople.”

FBI Dallas Special Agent in Charge Matthew DeSarno said the case emphasized the importance of taking Medicare fraud claims seriously.

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“The defendants violated their Hippocratic Oath as doctors and instead focused on lining their pockets at the expense of patient safety. This case highlights the importance of thoroughly investigating any complaint of healthcare fraud,” DeSarno said.

CBSDFW.com Staff