- Associated Press - Monday, June 18, 2018

HATTIESBURG, Miss. (AP) - A nurse practitioner has pleaded guilty to defrauding a federal health insurer at a Mississippi clinic.

Susan Perry of Grand Bay, Alabama, pleaded guilty Friday to one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud in federal court in Hattiesburg. U.S. District Judge Keith Starrett scheduled her sentencing for Sept. 20.

The 58-year-old Perry worked at a Biloxi clinic. She was indicted last year on 13 counts including wire fraud, improperly prescribing drugs and lying to investigators. In court papers filed with the plea, Perry admitted to prescribing unneeded medications to be made by Advantage Pharmacy in Hattiesburg. At least some of the time, Perry admits she did not examine patients.

Perry‘s plea is part of a larger investigation into multiple pharmacies that officials say bilked hundreds of millions from insurers. Advantage is one of the pharmacies at the center of the investigation. The inquiry became public when agents raided nine Mississippi pharmacies in January 2016.

Federal authorities are pursuing civil lawsuits against pharmacy owners, operators and marketers in Mississippi, alleging they engaged in a variety of schemes designed to defraud federal and private insurers. Prosecutors trying to seize millions in cash, vehicles and real estate allege in court papers that three Mississippi pharmacies alone reaped $400 million from insurers.

Pharmacist Jason May and health care marketer Gerald Schaar have already pleaded guilty to related charges. Advantage was co-owned by May, while court papers say Schaar provided Perry with preprinted forms to prescribe specific medicines that were “particularly profitable for Advantage.” Schaar was making commissions, and an indictment alleged that Perry took $50,000 in kickbacks.

Perry’s prescriptions cost Tricare - a federal military health insurer - nearly $1.4 million from January 2014 until April 2015, prosecutors say in court papers describing actions to which Perry admits.

An Ocean Springs physician, 78-year-old Dr. Albert Diaz, was sentenced to 3½ years in federal prison earlier this month for acts similar to Perry. A jury found Diaz guilty of health care fraud in March. Diaz acknowledged that he wrote prescriptions without seeing patients, but denied wrongdoing.

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