The trial is underway for a South Florida pharmacist who prosecutors say scammed TRICARE out of millions while living in a mansion and driving a fleet of luxury cars.
The case against Serge Francois, the owner of a single Pompano Beach pharmacy accused of trying to fleece $37 million from TRICARE, centers on arguments that Francois lied about his background, qualifications and prescription-drug claims to TRICARE.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Dan Bernstein told jurors Wednesday Francois paid millions in kickbacks to several marketing companies and doctors in exchange for a steady stream of TRICARE patients’ prescriptions to his Pompano Beach-based pharmacy.
“You’re going to hear that Serge Francois lived like a celebrity,” the Miami Herald reports Bernstein told jurors Wednesday.
According to the Real Deal “South Florida’s Real Estate News”, Francois not only purchased Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s French-style chateau in Broward’s Southwest Ranches community for $3.6 million, but he also acquired a fleet of luxury cars including: a Rolls Royce, a Ferrari, a Land Rover, a Lamborghini, a Cadillac Escalade and a Mercedes Benz.
The Landmark Ranch Estates mansion, more recently owned by Miami Dolphins player Vernon Carey, has six bedrooms, six bathrooms and two half-baths, and sits on 2.3 acres.
The U.S. Attorney argued Francois is not complicit in allegations and his lies netted him millions.
“He knew exactly what he was doing,” Bernstein said. “He lied and made millions of dollars.”
In the trial, which is estimated to last a month, jurors will decide if Francois will lose his freedom on charges of conspiring to rip off TRICARE as well as another federal health insurance network for government employees.
The Miami Herald reports both programs paid most of Atlantic Pharmacy’s prescription-drug claims between 2010 and 2015.
Since his arrest in November, Francois has been detained without bond in downtown Miami, a world apart from his massive estate. The Miami Herald reports records show Francois also has not paid almost $60,000 in property taxes for 2017.
Francois is one of 14 defendants implicated in the Atlantic Pharmacy case. The Miami Herald reports almost all of them, including four South Florida doctors, have pleaded guilty. Francois has pleaded not guilty.
Francois’ attorney, the Miami Herald reports, said during his argument that his client was unaware of any scheme to defraud the government.
“Serge Francois never paid a bribe to anyone,” Defense Attorney Sean Ellsworth told the jurors. “But we agree with Mr. Bernstein. There were fraudsters and criminals, and they paid the bribes.”
Ellsworth said Francois employed three pharmacists and other workers, who were also unaware of the marketing companies’ scheme to defraud TRICARE by paying kickbacks to doctors for patient referrals and drug prescriptions, according to the Miami Herald.
“All of this is to hide and mask what they’re doing, not only from the United States government but from Atlantic Pharmacy and Serge Francois,” Ellsworth told jurors.
According to an indictment, Atlantic Pharmacy billed the government programs for $37 million in fraudulent claims for compounded medications that were not necessary and not properly prescribed. TRICARE ended up paying out $31 million in an alleged scheme similar to the Medicare rackets the Miami Herald reports have plagued South Florida for more than a decade.
Bernstein also said in court papers Francois paid kickbacks to several South Florida physicians, including Fernando Garcia Dorta, who pleaded guilty and is expected to testify that, “he almost never spoke with or examined any of the patients he provided prescriptions for.”
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