NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – A Bronx pharmacy has found itself at the center of an alleged scam involving drugs to treat HIV.
As CBS 2’s Tony Aiello reported Tuesday, three men were arrested at the 184th Street Pharmacy, at 69 E. 184th St. in the Fordham Heights section of the Bronx, on allegations that they cashed in on medications that patients never received.
Pharmacists practicing in New York state take an oath to act in ways that are “moral, ethical, and legal.” But the men who ran the 184th Street Pharmacy failed on all counts, state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman alleged.
“These folks put their own profits above any professional responsibility,” Schneiderman said. “Our complaint charges that this was a fundamental breach of trust; that these people put people’s lives at risk, they robbed all the taxpayers, they disgraced their profession.”
Pharmacy owners Ahmed Hamed, 37, of Bayside, Queens, and Tarek Elsayed, 48, of Elmhurst, Queens, and the supervising pharmacist, Mohammed Hassan Ahmed, 36, of Elmhurst, were arrested Tuesday morning.
Schneidmeran alleged they all preyed on people with HIV. The scheme allegedly involved costly anti-retroviral drugs.
The pharmacy suspects allegedly paid patients $20 to $200 to forgo their medication, and then billed Medicaid $2,000 as if the drugs had been dispensed.
In so doing, they raked in almost $10 million in a single year, authorities said.
Investigators said in addition to paying patients for their own prescriptions, the defendants offered cash payments to people who brought in new patients a even a bonus for bringing in a referral.
And with their allegedly ill-gotten profits, the men used the money to buy expensive gifts, including jewelry from Tiffany’s and luxury cars, the AG’s office alleged. A Maserati, a Mercedes-Benz, and a BMW were among the six cars investigators seized.
“These folks were living it large on Medicaid dollars,” said Schneiderman.
One HIV patient was shocked to learn anyone with the disease would go for such a scheme.
“I think that is stupid, because today’s medication is working, you know, and giving people a chance to live longer,” said pharmacy customer Nadine Lavan. “Why would you sell your medications unless you have a death wish?”
But another customer said people desperate for money might stockpile pills by skipping an occasional dose and taking a chance.
“They got enough to hold them. Now they get this new medication,” the patient said. “What you going to do?”
Another man who lives near the pharmacy characterized the alleged scheme as a hustle on both ends. He told 1010 WINS’ Juliet Papa that patients who are oversubscribed didn’t need the medication but wanted the cash.
Anti-retroviral HIV drugs are not controlled substances under the law, so pharmacies do not have to account for them as tightly as such drugs as oxycodone.
The suspects have all been charged with grand larceny and scheming to defraud the government. Hamed and Elsayed were also charged with money laundering.
The suspects each face up to seven years in prison if convicted.
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