- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 29, 2006

Federal authorities began looking into the finances of a prominent local HIV physician more than two years ago because he was billing the government far more frequently than other doctors for a heart-attack drug, court documents show.

Dr. Larry M. Bruni, who was charged with health care fraud last week, claimed more than $500,000 in Medicare charges for injecting the drug Reteplase from 2001 to 2003, documents show.

By comparison, authorities said a review of billig records for doctors in four states and the District found only two other physicians had submitted claims for Reteplase injections 2002. The second-ranking physician, behind Dr. Bruni, received just $220 in reimbursements during the year, documents show.

Not all of the claims submitted by Dr. Bruni’s office were approved. Ultimately, Medicare paid Dr. Bruni about $153,000 as a result of his Reteplase claims.

The review of billing records was outlined in a search warrant affidavit filed by federal health care fraud investigators last year. Dr. Bruni is facing a maximum of 10 years in prison.

Beginning in the 1980s, Dr. Bruni had been one of the District’s most prominent and outspoken HIV doctors, before relocating to New York within the past few years.

He operated a private practice in the 600 block of Pennsylvania Avenue Southeast for years.

Dr. Bruni did not return calls to a phone number listed under his name in Albany, N.Y., and his attorney declined to comment.

The charges came as a surprise to some local HIV activists, who said Dr. Bruni was one of the first doctors in the District to specialize in treating HIV and AIDS patients in the mid-1980s.

“At that time, physicians didn’t know what the risk was to themselves, and there weren’t a whole lot of options,” said A. Cornelius Baker, former executive director of the Whitman-Walker Clinic.

“He was just one of a few people in private practice in the very beginning, and he was kind and generous, and he treated a lot of people who didn’t have money,” Mr. Baker said yesterday.

Bishop Kwabena Rainey Cheeks, an HIV activist and pastor of Inner Light Ministries in the District, said Dr. Bruni was well-known for “pushing the envelope” and overseeing clinical trials.

“He was certainly on the forefront in the early days,” Mr. Cheeks said yesterday.

Investigators have been reviewing Dr. Bruni’s financial records since at least 2003, court documents show.

Last summer, the Office of Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services received permission to seize Dr. Bruni’s computer records, according to records filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York.

The probe focused on Dr. Bruni’s Reteplase billing practices from 2001 to 2003 while he was practicing in the District. During the two-year period, Dr. Bruni’s Reteplase claims totaled more than $520,000, prosecutors said in written statements.

The charges were unusual because Reteplase generally is a one-time-only, first-aid blood thinner given to a patient within a few hours of a heart attack, prosecutors said in charging documents filed in the District last week.

Yet, Dr. Bruni’s Medicare claims showed that he injected the drug into one patient more than 100 times, authorities said. In court records, the person is identified only as “Patient B.”

“Dr. Bruni stated that he did not recall administering these medications to Patient B, although the injections would have caused an otherwise healthy individual to bleed to death,” according to a copy of the affidavit.

In addition, the affidavit states that Dr. Bruni told an investigator that “Patient B” also sometimes volunteered as the doctor’s office manager.

Dr. Bruni has had legal problems in the past, including a bankruptcy and a civil lawsuit filed by a former patient who said he was misdiagnosed with HIV.

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