Southfield Family Practice Doctor Gwendolyn Washington Sentenced to 120 Months for Public Corruption, Illegal Prescription Drug Trafficking, and Health Care Fraud
|U.S. Attorney’s Office November 28, 2011|
Gwendolyn Washington, M.D., age 67, was sentenced today to 120 months’ imprisonment for public corruption, health care fraud, and conspiring to illegally distribute prescription drugs, United States Attorney Barbara L. McQuade announced. McQuade was joined in the announcement by Andrew G. Arena, Special Agent in Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Detroit Field Division, and Lamont Pugh, III, Special Agent in Charge, Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General. Dr. Washington was sentenced by the Honorable Paul D. Borman.
On March, 7, 2011, Dr. Washington pleaded guilty to conspiring to defraud and defrauding the Detroit Public School (“DPS”) system of over $3.3 million. Dr. Washington, along with her sister Sherry Washington, and others doing business as “Associates for Learning” paid kickbacks to Stephen Hill, former DPS Executive Director of Risk Management, who authorized their submission to DPS and payment by DPS of grossly inflated invoices for services allegedly rendered to DPS in the form of a wellness program.
On July 28, 2011, Dr. Washington pleaded guilty to four felony counts involving drug trafficking and health care fraud. At her plea, Washington admitted that between 2004 and 2010, she performed unnecessary ultrasounds, nuclear cardiac stress tests, balance tests, sleep tests, and nerve conduction tests on patients, who were urged to return to Washington’s office every few months for repeat tests, even though initial results were normal. Washington billed Medicare and Blue Cross and Blue Shield more than $5 million for these tests, some of which were potentially harmful to patients. Most significantly, Dr. Washington ordered unnecessary and actively harmful nuclear stress tests for her patients at a frequency beyond that of any other medical practice in the country. Because each of these tests is the radiation equivalent of at least 80 to120 chest x-rays and because excess radiation creates a greater risk of cancer, Dr. Washington exposed her patients to a substantial risk of cancer.
Dr. Washington also admitted that she solicited and received kickbacks from home health care agencies and diagnostic testing facilities in return for referring patients to them for medical services. Washington referred patients to home health agencies, falsely certifying them as being confined to the home, in return for payments from home health care agencies of $200 to $500 per patient. In return for ordering nuclear stress tests, Dr. Washington received $200 per test. In total, Washington received $350,000 in total kickback payments. Medicare paid approximately $2.8 million to agencies receiving the fraudulent referrals. Washington received another $250,000 directly from Medicare for false certifications of patients for home health services.
Dr. Washington also admitted to committing two counts of controlled substances offenses. In February 2010, when Medicare suspended payments to Washington, resulting in a drastic reduction in her income, she began writing prescriptions for tens of thousands of doses of OxyContin, Opana ER, and Roxicodone, highly addictive pain medications that have a significant “street value” on the illicit market. Washington sometimes wrote prescriptions for individuals who were not her patients, without an examination or determination of medical necessity, and without an appropriate diagnosis or entry in a patient chart. Washington then provided these illegal prescriptions to Virginia Dillard, her niece and codefendant. Dillard filled the prescriptions at various pharmacies in Highland Park, Warren, and Detroit. After filling the illegal prescriptions, Virginia Dillard delivered the controlled substances to prescription drug dealers in exchange for money. Dillard sold each filled prescription in amounts ranging from $1,000 to $2,200, and shared the proceeds with Washington. Dillard was sentenced, on October 20, 2011, to 112 months’ imprisonment.
United States Attorney Barbara L. McQuade stated, “Dr. Washington not only stole money from school children and from Medicare, she also exposed patients to harmful tests for her own financial gain. We hope that this sentence deters other health care providers from stealing public funds and risking the health of their patients.”
Special Agent in Charge Andrew Arena stated, “Health Care Fraud is one of the fastest growing crime problems in the state of Michigan. The FBI will continue to work closely with its law enforcement partners to focus all possible resources on this problem.”
“Special Agent in Charge Lamont Pugh stated, “Today’s sentencing provides another reminder to those who would commit drug and related health care crimes that law enforcement is watching. The Office of Inspector General and our law enforcement partners remain steadfast in our commitment to ensuring that the Medicare program and taxpayer dollars are protected.”
U.S. Attorney McQuade congratulated the hard work of the FBI and HHS for its efforts in pursuing these cases. The public corruption case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Buckley. The health care fraud and illegal prescription drug distribution cases were prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Sarah Resnick Cohen.