Doctor Tied to $65M Fraud Keeps License

Nashville Tennessean USA TODAY NETWORK - TENNESSEE

The Tennessee government will allow a small-town doctor who wrote bogus prescriptions as part of a $65 million fraud conspiracy keep her medical license.

Dr. Susy Vergot has been ordered to attend medical ethics classes and her license will be put on professional probation for five years, but she can continue to practice medicine and write prescriptions, according to state records revealed on Monday.

The records say that Vergot insists she was unaware her prescriptions were being used for fraud.

Vergot, who once worked at the Choice MD clinic in Cleveland, Tennessee, was a central figure in a cross-country fraud conspiracy that was the subject of a Tennessean investigation published in February. The conspiracy used unnecessary prescriptions for exorbitantly expensive pain cream to defraud the military out of at least $65 million over a six-month span in 2015. Seven people and companies have been indicted for the scheme, and all but two have pleaded guilty.

The scheme worked like this: Recruiters in California would use cash kickbacks to convince Marines to sign up for pain cream prescriptions they didn’t need, then doctors at Choice MD would write the prescriptions without ever evaluating the Marines. The prescriptions were then sent to a Utah pharmacy called The Medicine Shoppe, which would bill the military insurance program Tricare about $14,500 for each prescriptions. Federal prosecutors say Vergot wrote thousands of these pain cream prescriptions.

Vergot confessed to her role in this scheme last year in return for a plea deal but has yet to be sentenced. In March, she negotiated a separate deal with the the Tennessee Department of Health and the Board of Medical Examiners, which oversees the discipline of doctors throughout the state. The agreement was announced as part of a statewide monthly report on medical discipline released on Monday.

In the new agreement, Vergot admits to prescribing pain cream for patients she never evaluated but insists she was unaware of the overarching fraud conspiracy. Vergot said in the agreement that she did not know patients were being illegally recruited or how much the prescriptions were costing the government.

Finally, Vergot claims in the agreement she only wrote about 200 to 300 pain cream prescriptions, but more than 3,000 prescriptions were attributed to her because of “altered or unauthorized refills.”

Vergot’s claims echo statements previously made by her attorney, Steven Moore, who said the Choice MD doctors were just an unaware cog in the fraud scheme. Moore said in February the doctors knew the prescriptions “weren’t right,” but were out of the loop of the larger conspiracy.

“It wasn’t their scam,” Moore said. “They just kind of buried their heads in the sand … But it’s important to know they aren’t the big fish here.”

The “big fish” are alleged to be Jimmy and Ashley Collins, the owners of Choice MD, who are the only suspects in the fraud case who have not confessed. In addition to prosecuting the Collins couple, federal authorities are trying to seize four East Tennessee properties they say the couple bought with conspiracy profits – including a 4,500square-foot mansion on a 60-acre estate with an ornate iron gate emblazoned with a large 'C.”

When reached for comment on Monday, Moore said he was limited in his ability to defend Vergot’s medical license because he could not speak about the ongoing Collins’ prosecution, so he wished the state government would have waited until the prosecution was over to discipline Vergot. The state refused.

“They don’t have the whole story,” Moore said. “It’s as fair as at it could be with the information they have available to them.”

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