A North Little Rock man on Wednesday became the fourth person since late June to plead guilty to conspiring to defraud Tricare, a federal health-care program, of more than $12 million by generating fake prescriptions for expensive compounded drugs.
Keith Benson pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Lee Rudofsky to a charge of violating the federal anti-kickback statute, admitting that in 2015, he pocketed $727,679.30 in payments for recruiting patients in whose names the false prescriptions were submitted. He agreed to forfeit that same amount of money as part of his sentencing, which hasn't yet been scheduled.
Benson admitted being part of a ring of conspirators led by Albert Glenn Hudson of Little Rock, who did business as Major Healing LLC, and who on June 24 pleaded guilty to the kickbacks charge. Hudson admitted that he pocketed $1.5 million as an organizer of a network that defrauded the insurer of more than $12 million in just a few months.
Last week and on Tuesday, a mother and daughter also admitted to their roles in Hudson's scheme. Donna Crowder, a nurse practitioner, admitted approving fraudulent prescriptions for compounded drugs in return for payments of more than $89,000 to her daughter, Jennifer Bracy, now known as Jennifer Crowder.
Tricare covered the compounded drugs -- mostly scar creams and supplements -- and processed and paid them through Express Scripts Inc., a pharmacy benefit manager, in good-faith reliance on claims that the prescriptions were valid, prosecutors have said. They said a pharmacy in Mississippi paid marketers to generate prescriptions for the compounded medications but didn't know that the marketers hired other people to generate and validate prescriptions for which the patients were never examined.
As fraud schemes across the country involving compounded drugs reached a peak in mid-2015, federal authorities began investigating the onslaught of claims, and prosecutors say that soon, many people suspected of carrying out the crimes began committing other crimes, such as creating false records, to cover up their wrongdoing.
Two other people -- Joe David "Jay" May, a doctor in Alexander; and Derek Clifton of Little Rock, a former high school basketball coach in Baxter County -- are charged in the Hudson case. They have pleaded innocent to charges of taking kickbacks and obstructing an FBI investigation.
They are facing a jury trial in January.