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Doctor gives guilty plea for workers' comp fraud

by Ron Wood | August 3, 2021 at 3:51 a.m.

FAYETTEVILLE -- A Louisiana doctor pleaded guilty Friday to workers' compensation fraud related to taking kickbacks from an Arkansas company.

Robert Dale Bernauer Sr., 74, waived indictment by a grand jury and pleaded guilty to a criminal information charging him with conspiracy to violate five federal statutes. According to court documents, Bernauer, an orthopedic surgeon and clinician who practiced in Lake Charles, made more than $1 million off the scheme between 2011 and 2017.

Bernauer pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud, wire fraud, health care fraud, fraud to obtain federal employees' compensation and illegal remunerations and taking kickbacks, all in connection with a scheme to defraud the U.S. government and private insurance companies by overbilling for unnecessary medications provided to workers' compensation patients.

According to court documents, an Arkansas company recruited Bernauer to dispense pain creams and patches to workers' compensation patients by offering him a 50% split of the profit from billing insurers. The company billed insurers at markups of 15 to 20 times what the medications actually cost.

Court documents indicate Bernauer wasn't the only physician involved in the scheme. The total financial harm to workers' compensation insurers isn't listed. But Bernauer accounted for a loss of about $2 million.

In his plea agreement, Bernauer agreed to pay more than $664,000 directly to the Department of Labor within 30 days and another $361,096 to the court clerk's office.

Bernauer will be subject to an additional restitution order of over $1 million as a shared obligation with any of his co-conspirators who may be later convicted.

As a result of his guilty plea to the single conspiracy count, Bernauer faces a maximum of five years in prison. The court will determine his sentence at a later date.

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