Defendants in multi-million-dollar health care fraud scheme plead not guilty

On Monday, all seven defendants indicted in a health care fraud scheme that allegedly involved millions in kickbacks pleaded not guilty to the charges against them during a series of video conference hearings.

Pharmacy owner John Ageudo Rodriguez, 51, physician Dr. Tajul Shams Chowdhury, 71, his son and a marketer for Rodriguez, Mohammad Imtiaz Chowdury, 40, and four others, including chiropractors Alex Flores Jr., 51, Hector De La Cruz, 50, and Dr. Chowdhury’s employees, Araceli Gaona, 35, of Mission, and Erika Salinas Vasquez, 38, of Donna each appeared before Magistrate Judge J. Scott Hacker via video conference.

The group was implicated in a scheme that allegedly bilked the government of more than $100 million in health care claims, according to the indictment against them.

The charges against the defendants include one count of attempt and conspiracy to commit mail fraud, 12 counts of healthcare fraud, money laundering, and one count each of conspiracy to defraud the U.S.

As part of the scheme, Rodriguez, a state-licensed pharmacist and owner of Pharr Family Pharmacy on Cage Boulevard in Pharr, allegedly provided his marketers with pre-filled prescription pads intended to be given to physicians.

Rodriguez allegedly billed various federal healthcare programs over a period of several years for more than $110 million.

Court documents show he had help from other individuals also listed in the indictment.

Mohammad Chowdhury, Flores, and De La Cruz, allegedly acted as three marketers for Rodriguez and his pharmacy. Mohammad Chowdhury also operated an entity known as Echelon Medical Innovations LLC.

Flores and De La Cruz are state licensed chiropractors and owners of several locations.

According to the 15-count indictment, the marketers were the conduits for several-million dollars in kickbacks for Rodriguez’s pharmacy.

The scheme allegedly involved the referral of prescriptions for high-reimbursing compound drugs to the pharmacy, the federal government alleged in court documents.

In numerous instances, the marketers allegedly received kickbacks from Rodriguez, which they shared with referring physicians.

One of the named physicians, Dr. Tajul Shams Chowdhury, owns and operates a medical practice in Edinburg known as the Center for Pain Management, a general practice facility that opened in 1994.

Gaona and Salinas, who were first to appear before Judge Hacker Monday afternoon, face counts 14 and 15, money laundering and conspiracy to defraud the U.S..

Rodriguez, Mohammad Chowdhury, Dr. Chowdhury, Flores and De La Garza, followed via video conference and each pleaded not guilty to the charges during their respective hearings.

Hacker did not indicate he would deny a bond for any of the defendants, and stated he would attempt to make a determination on the bonds for all defendants as early as Tuesday.