An alligator-wrestling doctor from Michigan has been convicted of running a $100 million-plus health care fraud scheme, federal prosecutors said.
Francisco Patino, who ran a medical clinic in Livonia, was convicted Wednesday by a federal jury for masterminding a Medicare scheme by giving unnecessary spinal injections to patients in exchange for prescriptions of high doses of opioids, according to the Department of Justice.
In exchange for the highly addictive opioids, Patino’s patients would get – or be billed as if they had received – joint or nerve block injections that allowed him to bill their insurance for the unneeded services, leading to lucrative, fraudulent payments to the doctor’s practice.
“Although these spinal injections were purportedly intended to treat chronic pain, evidence at trial demonstrated that Patino injected patients without regard to medical necessity,” federal prosecutors said. “Evidence also revealed that if patients refused to accept the injections, Patino would withhold their prescriptions for opioids.”
Patino, a surgeon from Woodhaven, was well-known locally for his outgoing, eclectic lifestyle and Facebook profile that showed him wrestling alligators and posing shirtless next to bikini-clad women, the Detroit News reported.
He had also shown off his buff physique and promoted his self-styled “Patino Diet” ahead of his trial.
Patino spent three years in jail awaiting his day in court, but appeared much thinner in an orange jail jumpsuit during a court hearing last month, the newspaper reported.
Patino billed Medicare for more facet joint or nerve block injections than any other medical provider nationwide from January 2012 through July 2017. He also prescribed more 30-milligram Oxycodone pills than any other clinic in Michigan in 2016 and 2017, federal prosecutors said.
Some of the 2.2 million pills he prescribed in 2016 and 2017, including fentanyl, ended up being resold on the street, an indictment shows.
Patino also set up an illegal kickback scheme with at least one diagnostic lab, getting payments in exchange for sending patients’ samples. The labs then funneled money into bank accounts by others who distributed the money to Patino or spent it on his behalf, prosecutors said.
Patino, who was convicted of charges including conspiracy to commit health care fraud and wire fraud, used some of his ill-gotten gains on jewelry, cars and vacations. A chunk of his fraudulent proceeds also went to promote his diet program and wellness book.
The disgraced doc faces up to life in prison when he’s sentenced in January. His “Patino Diet” Facebook profile was not available as of Thursday.
Patino’s attorney declined to comment Wednesday, the Detroit News reported.