HOUSTON, TEXAS – 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.