Michigan-based Indian-origin surgeon acquitted of charges in $464 mn healthcare fraud


Rajendra Bothra, an Indian-origin surgeon, and three other physicians were acquitted of charges related to federal allegations that they operated a prescription drug mill, local media reported in Detroit, MI.

Padma Shri awardee Bothra, a resident of Bloomfield Hills in Oakland County, Michigan, the accused mastermind; along with Ganiu Edu of Southfield, Davi Lewis of Detroit and Christopher Russo of Birmingham were found not guilty by a jury on Wednesday, Macomb Daily reported.

The verdict followed a six-week trial in front of Judge Stephen Murphy in US District Court in Detroit.

The four were accused in a $464 million healthcare fraud which, United States authorities said, fuelled the country’s opioid crisis.

On December 6, 2018, Bothra and five other physicians at The Pain Center USA (a Bothra-owned clinic in Warren, Michigan) were indicted for healthcare fraud and released on bond pending trial. In 2019, however, Bothra was taken into federal custody for misrepresenting information about his relatives, trips abroad and assets, and had remained in custody due to flight risk. He had filed eight motions to revoke his detention and appealed the denials six times.

U.S. attorneys said the defendants had illicitly prescribed over 13 million pills and made false claims to illegally collect over $20 million from Medicare, over $17 million from Medicaid and over $15 million from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, from 2013 to 2018.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Brandy McMillion said the doctors handed out drugs like a “McDonald’s drive thru” and compared the operation to an assembly line.

She said the doctors forced patients suffering back pain to undergo radio frequency ablations on their backs in exchange for drugs, and unnecessarily prescribed back braces to patients, Macomb Daily reported.

The group was collectively charged with over 50 counts, with each of them facing one count of conspiracy to distribute controlled substances, mostly the opioid Norco, and conspiracy to commit healthcare fraud.

The other counts were distribution of controlled substances and healthcare fraud. Bothra faced the most counts and Edu faced the next highest.

Bothra’s attorney, Arthur Weiss, said Wednesday he and his client are “ecstatic” over the verdict but upset that he has been in federal detention for 43 months while awaiting trial. The other defendants were free on personal bonds.

“We’re glad the jury looked at the evidence and made the appropriate decision in a relatively short amount of time,” Weiss said. “Where does he go to reclaim those 43 months?”

Bothra was released from detention on Wednesday. Over the course of the proceedings, the Indian native repeatedly attempted to gain freedom while awaiting trial, but was denied by the judge.

U.S. attorneys were concerned about Bothra’s risk of flight since he had visited India often after moving to America several decades ago, and had allegedly lied about the extent of his travel, Macomb Daily reported.