Texas Clinic Owner and Clinic Employee Sentenced to Prison for Conspiring to Unlawfully Prescribe Hundreds of Thousands of Opioids

A Houston-area pain clinic owner and a clinic employee who posed as a physician were sentenced to 240 months and 96 months in prison, respectively, today for their roles at a “pill mill” where they and their co-conspirator illegally prescribed hundreds of thousands of doses of opioids and other controlled substances.

Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian C. Rabbit of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Patrick of the Southern District of Texas and Special Agent in Charge Steven S. Whipple of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) Houston Division made the announcement.

Baker Niazi, 49, of Sugarland, Texas, and Muhammad Arif, 62, of Katy, Texas, were sentenced by U.S. District Judge Alfred H. Bennett of the Southern District of Texas. Judge Bennett ordered that Niazi pay a fine of $500,000, and also ordered that Niazi forfeit $493,000 and that Arif forfeit $11,423.11.  Niazi pleaded guilty in April 2018 to one count of conspiracy to unlawfully distribute and dispense controlled substances, and Arif was convicted at trial in August 2019 of one count of conspiracy to unlawfully distribute and dispense controlled substances and three counts of unlawfully distributing and dispensing controlled substances.

According to the evidence presented at the trial of Arif, from September 2015 through February 2016, Niazi owned and operated Aster Medical Clinic in Rosenberg, Texas, which he operated as an illegal pill mill.  Arif was an employee at Aster Medical Clinic who conspired with Niazi and a Dallas-based physician to unlawfully prescribe controlled substances to individuals posing as patients.  The evidence showed that Niazi hired Arif, who was not licensed to practice medicine in the United States, to pose as a physician at Aster Medical Clinic, where he saw the clinic’s customers as if he were a physician, and wrote prescriptions for them on prescription pads that had often been pre-signed by the physician, Arif’s co-conspirator. 

Through this scheme, Aster Medical Clinic dispensed prescriptions for over 200,000 dosage units of hydrocodone, a Schedule II controlled substance, and over 145,000 dosage units of carisoprodol, a Schedule IV controlled substance.  The combination of hydrocodone and carisoprodol is a dangerous drug cocktail with no known medical benefit, the evidence showed.

Trial evidence showed that Aster Medical Clinic issued unlawful prescriptions for controlled substances to over 40 people on its busiest days.  “Runners” brought numerous people to pose as patients at Aster Medical Clinic and paid for their visits in order to obtain prescriptions for controlled substances that the crew leaders then diverted onto the black market.  Aster Medical Clinic charged approximately $250 for each patient visit, and required payment in cash, the evidence showed.

One other co-conspirator has pleaded guilty based on his role in the unlawful prescription scheme at Aster Medical Clinic and is currently awaiting sentencing before U.S. District Judge Alfred H. Bennett of the Southern District of Texas.

The case was investigated by the DEA, and was brought as part of the Health Care Fraud Strike Force, under the supervision of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas.  The case is being prosecuted by Assistant Deputy Chief Aleza Remis and Trial Attorney Alexis Gregorian of the Fraud Section.

The Fraud Section leads the Health Care Fraud Strike Force.  Since its inception in March 2007, the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, which maintains 15 strike forces operating in 24 districts, has charged more than 4,200 defendants who have collectively billed the Medicare program for nearly $19 billion.  In addition, the HHS Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, working in conjunction with the HHS-OIG, are taking steps to increase accountability and decrease the presence of fraudulent providers.

The year 2020 marks the 150th anniversary of the Department of Justice.  Learn more about the history of our agency at www.Justice.gov/Celebrating150Years.

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    In 2009, the Secretary of the Navy set goals to reduce fuel consumption and, 2 years later, initiated a program to install Hybrid Electric Drive (HED) systems on its fleet of Arleigh Burke class (DDG 51 Flight IIA) destroyers. The HED system draws surplus power from the ship's electric system and uses it to propel the ship. This allows the crew to turn off the propulsion engines and save fuel. Since 2011, Navy officials told us that they have spent over $100 million on the development, purchase, and upgrade of six HED systems. In October 2018, the Navy completed installation of one of the systems on the USS Truxtun (DDG 103). However, the Navy has yet to install the remaining five HED systems and now plans to use them to support another research effort. The Navy issued a January 2020 report to Congress on the HED system installed on the USS Truxtun, but did not include some requested information. For example, while the report included performance information from operations on board the USS Truxtun, it did not include sufficient information to determine the overall performance of the HED system. A comprehensive test and evaluation could have assessed the system's performance, reliability, and cyber survivability to inform program decision-making. Further, the report did not include a summary of planned investment that includes: an assessment of the costs and benefits of the HED system, or a projection of the funding needed to execute the program. The Navy stated that it did not include a summary of the planned investments in the report because the HED program was not included in the President's fiscal year 2020 budget and also due to the need for additional HED data. However, Congress appropriated $35 million in funding for the HED program in 2020, which was available to support ship installation of the five previously purchased HEDs. The Navy stated that it can only use a small portion of this funding before it expires in September 2022 since the systems cannot be upgraded and incorporated into a ship's maintenance schedule in the next 3 years. In summer 2020, Navy requirements officials informed GAO and Congress that they plan to suspend the HED program and send the five surplus HED systems to support research into a new electric motor, known as Propulsion Derived Ship Service (PDSS). Navy requirements officials identified several reasons for suspending the HED program, but these reasons differ from information GAO obtained during the course of this review. For example: Navy officials stated that it is expensive to maintain the HED system. However, the commanding officer and crew of the USS Truxtun and senior Navy engineers stated that the system requires little maintenance. Navy officials also stated that the HED is not used very often in operations. According to the Navy's January 2020 report, the system was designed for low-speed operations (speed up to 11 knots), which comprise more than one-third of a typical DDGs operating profile. GAO did not assess the Navy's decision to use the HED systems for PDSS research because the Navy did not have documentation regarding the requirements, testing, schedule, or costs of the PDSS effort. GAO could not determine the merits of suspending the HED program and using the other five HED systems for the PDSS effort because the Navy has yet to complete analysis that determines the costs, benefits, and performance necessary to support such a decision. If the Navy completes a further assessment—which has been requested by Congress—it could provide the information necessary to inform future decisions about the HED program. This report assesses the Navy's HED program. Senate Report 115-262 accompanying the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019 asked the Navy to submit a report on the HED system installed on the USS Truxtun. GAO was asked to review the Navy's report and the Navy's recent decision to suspend the HED program to pursue the PDSS research project. This report (1) examines the extent to which the Navy's report on the USS Truxtun included information regarding the assessment areas as requested by Congress; and (2) describes the Navy's decision to suspend the HED program and use the HED systems for the PDSS research effort. To conduct this work, GAO reviewed the Navy's 2020 report on the HED system, analyzed data and documentation the Navy used to guide investments, and assessed HED performance information. GAO also interviewed relevant Navy officials, such as the commanding officer and other senior crew of the USS Truxtun, and Navy engineers. GAO is not making any recommendations. For more information, contact Shelby S. Oakley at (202) 512-4841 or oakleys@gao.gov.
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  • Title X Family Planning Program Turns 50
    In Human Health, Resources and Services
    Title X of the Public [Read More…]
  • Secretary Michael R. Pompeo, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, Indian Minister of Defense Rajnath Singh, And Indian Minister of External Affairs Subrahmanyam Jaishankar Opening Statements at the U.S.-India 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Michael R. Pompeo, [Read More…]
  • Presentation of the Sherman Award to the Honorable Judge Douglas H. Ginsburg
    In Crime News
    Welcome to the Conference Center of the historic Robert F. Kennedy Department of Justice Building. It is an honor to present the Sherman award to Judge Douglas H. Ginsburg this afternoon. We’re joined today by Judge Ginsburg’s wife Deecy and many of Judge Ginsburg’s colleagues and admirers. We’re particularly honored by the presence of Justice Gorsuch, a champion of liberty, who in his short time on the Supreme Court has reconfirmed his reputation for brilliance, clarity of thought and expression, and for holding the government to its word, whether in the statutes that it enacts or the treaties that it makes. I also welcome the distinguished guests who are with us virtually.
    [Read More…]