Collaboration in Civic Spheres

Guilty pleas in Seattle Medicaid prescription drug conspiracy

by Matt Rosenberg May 17th, 2011

SUMMARY: A Seattle woman and her fiance last week pled guilty to federal charges in a scheme involving theft of Medicare client information from a Seattle eye clinic where she worked as a billing technician, and to the forging and submitting of fraudulent prescriptions at Oregon pharmacies for straw patients of the narcotic painkillers methadone, oxycodone and hydrocodone. The pair then sold the narcotics to distributors in Seattle and banked some of the proceeds. They’re each eligible for up to 22 years upon sentencing in September but prosecutors have recommended shorter sentences in return for their cooperation on plea agreements.

BACKGROUND: This case was investigated by the Office of the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the FBI. Assisting were police in Seattle and Shoreline, Wash., plus a number of Oregon jurisdictions, and the Regence BlueShield Special Investigations Unit.

KEY LINKS: Alyse Burrell Plea Agreement, May 11, 2011; Horace Mitchell III Plea Agreement, May 11, 2011; Criminal complaint against Horace Mitchell III and Alyse Burrell, January 6, 2011; U.S. District Court, Seattle.

KEY FINDINGS:

  • While working as a billing technician at the Pacific Retina Specialists clinic in Seattle in the fall of 2010, Alyse Burrell, 27, of Seattle, took for her personal use information on at least 60 patients including their names, birthdates, social security numbers, addresses and/or health insurance numbers. She focused on individuals whose health insurance covered prescription drug expenses, specifically including a number of Medicare patients, and Regence BlueShield patients. She also stole doctors’ prescription pads.
  • She and her fiance Horace Mitchell III, 26, also of Seattle, used the stolen information and prescription pads to submit forged prescriptions in the names of at least three physicians to pharmacies in Washington County, Oregon and as a result were able to obtain at least 1,550 methadone pills, 5,469 hydrocodone pills, and 145,930 mg of oxycodone.
  • Burrell and Mitchell sold the drugs to distributors in Seattle. They deposited some of money they received in a bank account of Mitchell’s.
  • They were arrested in October, 2010 in Washington County, Oregon while trying to pass fraudulent prescriptions. A search of their rental vehicle yielded more fraudulent prescriptions, in names not theirs, as well as patient information sheets stolen from Pacific Retina Specialists, plus blank prescriptions, paper cutters and directions to pharmacies.
  • Advised of her Miranda rights, Burrell provided a detailed confession to police at a Fred Meyer pharmacy in Washington County, including that she “she travels to Oregon to obtain fraudulent prescriptions, due to less stringent laws…..and returns to Seattle where she sells the pills to another who sells them.”
  • After being released on bond in Oregon, Burrell in late October, 2010 stole a prescription pad from Pacific Medical Center in Seattle during a visit there for an appointment for her child, and subsequently forged a number of additional prescriptions. On at least three occasions, police received reports of suspicious prescriptions submitted at pharmacies in Seattle and Bellevue by a woman subsequently identified as Burrell.
  • In her plea agreement dated May 11, 2011, Burrell pled guilty to aggravated identity theft and conspiracy to acquire controlled substances by fraud and conspiracy to distribute them. The charges carry a maximum penalty of 22 years incarcerations and fines of up to $1.25 million. Prosecutors have recommended a sentence five to six years for her. In his plea agreement dated May 11, 2011, Mitchell pled guilty to the same charges. Prosecutors have recommended a sentence four to five years for him.
  • Sentencing by U.S. District Court Judge Thomas S. Zilly is set for September 1, 2011. He has discretion to impose any sentence on the defendants up to the maximum permitted by law.

RELATED: Burrell and Mitchell are both being held at the Federal Detention Facility in Sea-Tac, Wash. Pacific Retina Specialists in Seattle has yet to respond to a request for comment.

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