Federal court

Miami Beach’s ‘Rock Doc’ sentenced to six years for Medicare fraud

 

A Miami Beach physician dubbed the ‘Rock Doc’ gets six years in prison for stealing millions from Medicare in fraudulent billing schemes.

For The Wall Street Journal / ALEXIA FODERE

jweaver@MiamiHerald.com

The Miami Beach physician dubbed the “Rock Doc” didn’t do himself any favors Friday in Miami federal court.

A federal judge said he tried to give Christopher Gregory Wayne the benefit of the doubt during his sentencing hearing, but the convicted osteopath just wouldn’t entirely own up to stealing millions from Medicare.

“This was not intentional or malicious,” Wayne, 54, told U.S. District Judge Robert Scola.

Scola scratched his head after Wayne’s long courtroom statement, in which he apologized for his “mistakes” but did not “take responsibility for 90 percent of what he did,” the judge noted.

In the end, Scola gave Wayne a nearly six-year prison sentence. His defense attorney had hoped for about five years and prosecutors for 6 1/2 years under federal sentencing guidelines.

Wayne, whose patients gave him the nickname “Rock Doc” because he used to wear his blond hair in distinctive spikes, pleaded guilty in February to defrauding the taxpayer-funded healthcare program and to prescribing unlawful painkillers. In custody since his arrest last September, the osteopathic physician was ordered to return about $1.65 million in Medicare payments for bogus physical therapy services and hand over his Pine Tree Drive home and 2002 Mercedes-Benz to the U.S. government as part of a plea agreement.

During Friday’s hearing, prosecutor Eric Morales accused Wayne of obstructing justice, claiming that he wrote a jailhouse letter asking a couple of friends to remove some of his valuables from his Miami Beach home so the government could not seize them if he were found guilty.

Wayne, whose graying hair is now pulled back in a ponytail, admitted that he wrote the detailed 18-page letter after his arrest, while he was still planning to fight the Medicare fraud charges. But he told the judge: “I never sent it to anybody. I never intended to send it to anybody.”

Still, the letter was taken by fellow inmates at the Federal Detention Center and turned over to the U.S. attorney’s office, Morales said. Certain valuables were removed from Wayne’s home and put into storage, he said.

But Scola, the judge, did not enhance Wayne’s sentence based on the allegation of obstructing justice because the judge found no actual proof that he had sent the letter to anyone.

The prosecutor also sought to deny Wayne credit for “accepting responsibility” by pleading guilty to Medicare fraud, claiming that the disgraced physician failed to admit to the court’s probation office that he knowingly bilked the program.

Wayne himself admitted to the judge that his Miami medical office billed Medicare for physical therapy services that he knew were not provided to numerous patients. But he also said he only committed those violations because he was unaware of a Medicare policy change in 2008 that required his employees to be licensed physical therapists to provide such services.

“I only became aware of this change after my arrest,” said Wayne, who was represented by attorney Michael Grieco. “That’s why I pleaded guilty.”

Scola allowed him credit for accepting responsibility, then ultimately took some of that away in crafting Wayne’s 6-year prison sentence.

According to his plea agreement, Wayne billed Medicare more than $5 million for thousands of ultrasounds, massages and other physical therapy services at his North Miami Avenue clinic that were not provided or needed between December 2007 and August 2009.

One patient told a federal grand jury that the physician billed Medicare $70 for a June 1, 2009, office visit when she was traveling in Haiti, according to a factual statement filed with the plea deal.

In numerous other instances, Wayne’s unlicensed employees provided the services instead of him, the statement said.

In total, Medicare paid his clinic, Miami Urgent Care and Rehab Center, about $1.9 million.

At Friday’s hearing, Wayne said he closed down his clinic in late 2009 because he was suffering from exhaustion and alcoholism.

But the physician admitted he then made “another mistake” by getting into a pill-mill practice in Broward County.

Wayne got caught selling large amounts of the painkillers Oxycodone and Endocet to a confidential law enforcement source and an undercover police officer posing as patients at a Davie medical office on three occasions in 2011, according to prosecutor Brent Tantillo, who worked with Morales on the case.

The prosecutors said Wayne pocketed a total of $428,000 from the dispensation of “drug cocktails” to patients — “regardless of medical necessity.”

Agents with the FBI, Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General and Drug Enforcement Administration made the case against Wayne, who had obtained his osteopathic license in 1990.

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