A physician who admitted he signed off on blank prescription forms while he worked for an East Washington-based network of addiction-treatment clinics was sentenced to six months of house arrest Wednesday.
Michael Bummer, 40, of Sewickley, was also ordered to serve three years of probation when he appeared before U.S. District Judge Arthur Schwab in Pittsburgh. Schwab imposed a $20,000 fine and another $157,000 in restitution as part of the sentence.
Bummer, who formerly worked at Redirections Treatment Advocates, had pleaded guilty to charges of dealing and conspiring to deal Suboxone and Subutex, which are used in treating opioid addiction, plus health care fraud.
Redirections’ main office was at an East Washington house belonging to owner Jennifer Hess. The FBI and other agencies raided that location and the practice’s clinics in Washington and Bridgeville and in the West Virginia cities of Moundsville, Weirton and Morgantown early in 2018 before Hess; Redirections manager Christopher Handa; Bummer and four other doctors with the clinics were indicted by a grand jury.
Hess, 51, pleaded guilty in May to helping the illegal dealing of Suboxone and health care fraud. She’s set to be sentenced Oct. 30.
Investigators accused Bummer and others working at the clinics of carrying out a scheme from March 2016 until the time of the FBI raid.
A transcript of Bummer’s plea hearing in August 2018 showed he and other doctors with the clinics would do only “minimal” physical exams of a patient with opioid addition on their initial visit – which cost $175 – and not even see them on subsequent visits, for which clinics charged $120 each.
The clinics didn’t offer the counseling services they were required to provide.
Instead, doctors pre-signed blank prescription forms. Hess, Handa or other staff would complete the slips so patients could use their Medicare or Medicaid insurance to fill the prescriptions at pharmacies.
State records show Bummer’s medical license was suspended last year. His attorney, Brian Bevan, asked for a probationary sentence, asserting in a filing his client had already been punished by the dissolution of his career and damage to his reputation.
Bevan also said Bummer’s salary as a UPMC physician was more than adequate, so he wasn’t motivated by money.
Further, his prior experience writing prescriptions was limited and he acted out of misplaced trust in Redirections.
“He assumed, wrongly, that RTA staff were professionally trained and operated the clinic in compliance with all laws and rules,” Bevan wrote. “His naiveté led to him being taken advantage of and duped by a greedy clinic owner/operator who masked her improper and unlawful manner of operating RTA.”
Meanwhile, federal prosecutors said in papers related to Bummer’s sentencing he’d followed suit with Hess, whose clinics “epitomized the model of profit over treatment.”
“(Bummer) was a well-respected doctor with a good job and family. He also was a drug dealer in a white lab coat,” prosecutors added. “Using his medical knowledge and training, he helped corrupt and bypass a heavily regulated system that was designed and intended to prevent the very abuse he enabled and fostered.”
Handa was sentenced in July to two years of probation with three months of house arrest.
The outcomes of the cases against the other doctors have been mixed.
Madhu Aggarwhal was sentenced to three years of probation with six months of house arrest. Another doctor, Parth Bharill, pleaded guilty last month and is awaiting sentencing.
In June, two others – Madhu’s husband, Krishnan Aggarwhal, and Cherian John – were acquitted by the federal jury that sat through their trial in Wheeling.