A Dallas-area doctor pleaded guilty Friday in a Little Rock courtroom on a charge of obstructing a federal health care investigation and faces up to five years in prison, according to federal prosecutors.
U.S. attorneys from the Eastern District of Arkansas said the investigation centered on telemedicine fraud involving federal insurers -- including Medicare and Tricare. Patient complaints and a "surge in claims" for durable medical equipment and compounded prescription drugs prompted the FBI and other federal agencies to open such an investigation, authorities said.
Dr. Lorraine De Blanche, 56, who practiced medicine in Little Rock in 2015 and 2016, was interviewed last year by investigators. Prosecutors said De Blanche lied to investigators during the interview about her telemedicine consultations.
Several websites list De Blanche as a nuclear medicine specialist. Nuclear medicine is described by Johns Hopkins Medicine as a "specialized area of radiology" that uses small amounts of radioactive materials, known as radiopharmaceuticals, to examine organ function and structure.
That branch of radiology often is used to help diagnose and treat abnormalities during the earliest stages of disease, including thyroid cancer, according to Johns Hopkins.
During her interview with authorities, De Blanche insisted she evaluated patients by telephone before determining whether it was necessary to prescribe compounded prescription drugs or durable medical equipment to patients, according to the U.S. attorney's office. Later, she admitted she had actually ordered products numerous times without consulting patients, prosecutors said.
Cody Hiland, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas, said "serious consequences" await anyone who misleads investigators.
Under the terms of the plea agreement, De Blanche agreed to forfeit more than $33,000 in telemedicine proceeds and pay a $180,000 fine, Hiland's office confirmed.
De Blanche will be sentenced at a later date.
In June and July, four Arkansans pleaded guilty to conspiring to defraud Tricare of more than $12 million by generating fake prescriptions for expensive compounded drugs.
In a media release Friday, the U.S. attorney's office in Little Rock did not indicate whether De Blanche was connected to that scheme.