AKRON – Deepak Raheja, 66, of Hudson, Ohio, was sentenced on Friday to 30 months in prison by U.S. District Judge Sara Lioi after he pleaded guilty to his role in a pharmaceutical kickback conspiracy. In addition to the prison sentence, Raheja was ordered to surrender his medical license, pay $2,163,995 in restitution, and a $50,000 fine.
According to court documents, between February 2011 and July 2016, Raheja and co-defendants Frank Mazzucco, Gregory Hayslette, and Bhupinder Sawhny conspired together to increase the number of prescriptions that Raheja and Sawhny wrote for Nuedexta, a prescription drug, in exchange for the payment of monetary kickbacks and other items of value.
Court records say that Mazzucco and Hayslette were employed as pharmaceutical sales representatives by Avanir Pharmaceuticals in the region where Raheja and Sawhny practiced. Avanir Pharmaceuticals manufactured Nuedexta, a drug approved by the FDA solely to treat pseudobulbar (PBA). PBA is a condition characterized by involuntary, sudden, and frequent episodes of uncontrollable laughing and crying.
According to court records, Avanir promoted Nuedexta through a speaker’s bureau, in which Avanir representatives engaged doctors to speak about and promote Nuedexta to other medical professionals. Typical speaking engagements involved dinner at a high-end restaurant in which the doctor made a presentation with a slide deck provided by Avanir. An Avanir sales representative was responsible for inviting attendees and attending the presentation.
Court documents state that Raheja joined Avanir’s speaker’s bureau in February 2011 and gave approximately 211 speaking presentations at various restaurants and doctor’s offices between October 2011 and April 2016. For each of these purported presentations, court documents claim that Raheja received approximately $1,500.
During this timeframe, court documents say that Raheja received approximately $331,550 in total payments from Avanir and wrote approximately 10,088 Nuedexta prescriptions – the highest in the country.
As part of the conspiracy, Mazzucco and Hayslette incentivized physicians, including Raheja and Sawhny to write Nuedexta prescriptions through various means, such as arranging speaker’s bureau programs, which were mostly social events; honoraria payments; the falsification of sign-in sheets from speaking engagements to maximize payments and providing food and beverages to doctors and their office staff.
Court documents explain that Raheja and Sawhny took steps in return for these things of value, including writing more Nuedexta prescriptions; causing the submission of billings to Medicare and Medicaid for Nuedexta prescriptions for patients that did not have PBA; falsely diagnosing patients with PBA and recording fictitious symptoms in patient records to support a diagnosis of PBA.
Mazzucco and Hayslette are both scheduled to be sentenced in February 2023 for their roles in the scheme. Sawhny was sentenced to serve three years’ probation and pay $40,126.22 in restitution for his role in the scheme.
This case was investigated by the Cleveland FBI, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) for the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and the Ohio Attorney General’s Healthcare Fraud Section.
This case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Michael L. Collyer and Megan R. Miller.