Indian-American physician charged in opioid scheme, released on $7 million bond

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Dr. Rajendra ‘Raj’ Bothra, 77, of Bloomfield Hills, Michigan — one of the most high profile Indian- American Republican Party activists and fundraisers — who was the mastermind behind an alleged massive $464 million health care fraud conspiracy, which the federal government said had fueled the opioid epidemic, has posted a Bernie Madoff-sized bond to return home and await his trial on 17 charges.

They include health care fraud conspiracy, conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute drugs, and aiding and abetting the unlawful distribution of drugs. The drug charges are 20-year felonies while the health care charges are punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

On Jan. 15, U.S. District Judge Stephen Murphy, released Bothra on a $7 million bond — which eclipsed the previous record-high bond of 4.5 million in the state, which was granted two years ago to another Indian- American physician, Dr. Jumana Nagarwala, who was charged in the nation’s first case involving female genital mutilation.

On Dec. 4, a grand jury had returned an indictment that charged Bothra — erstwhile Chief of Surgery at the Holy Cross Hospital, Detroit and a 1999 Padmashri winner — and five other physicians as part of an investigation into alleged health care fraud conspiracy in cheating Medicare and Medicaid, which involved more than 13 million unlawfully prescribed opioid prescription drugs that was not only as one of the largest medical frauds in Michigan history but also one of the largest nationwide.

The U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, Matthew Schneider announced the 56-count indictment on Dec. 6, of Bothra and Dr. Eric Backos, 65, of Bloomfield Hills; Dr. Ganiu Edu, 50, of Southfield; Dr. David Lewis, 41, of Detroit; Dr. Christopher Russo, 50 of Birmingham; and Dr. Ronald Kufner, 68 of Ada, all five of whom worked in varying capacities at three pain clinics in Macomb County — The Pain Center USA in Warren and Eastpointe, and Interventional Pain Center in Warren — owned and operated by Bothra.

Prosecutors alleged that Bothra’s clinics “sought to bill insurance companies for the maximum number of services and procedures possible with no regard to the patients’ needs.”

Schneider said, “The damage that opioid distribution has done to our community and to the United States as a whole has been devastating,” and slamming Bothra and his fellow physicians engaged in the purported fraud, asserted, “Healthcare professionals who prey on patients who are addicted to opioids in order to line their pockets is particularly egregious.”

The Detroit News reported that Bothra, the key protagonist in one of the largest health care fraud cases in U.S. history, must liquidate an $8.5 million retirement account to cover the bond, and would be confined to his home and he would be constantly tracked by a GPS tether and must identify all assets under penalty of perjury, the report.

The Jan. 15 hearing was also attended by his wife and daughter, who also agreed to surrender their passports to alleviate concerns, which the prosecutors put forth that the family might flee while Bothra awaits trial in July.

Prosecutors had argued that Bothra remain incarcerated pending trial in July, asserting tha the is a serial liar and a flight risk since he has deep ties to India with family still living there and has at least $1 million in overseas bank accounts.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Brandy McMillion also wrote in a court filing that “Dr. Bothra’s connection with the Ambani family gives him access to a fleet of corporate jets that routinely visit the United States and can provide him with a means to flee,” Detroit News reported.

Earlier, it had been disclosed that Bothra shares a friend with Anil Ambani, chairman of Reliance Group, an Indian conglomerate involved in the telecom, financial services and aviation industries.

But Bothra’s attorney Thomas Cramer, wrote in his court filing that “Dr. Bothra simply poses no risk to anyone — he is an elderly physician who has spent his entire life serving his community and has never been in trouble before in his entire life. He has neither the means nor the inclination to threaten or endanger anyone.”

Prosecutors has slammed Bothra saying that he had continued to evade disclosing his true net worth, which could be as much as $35 million,and also his deep ties to India and his close family connections.

But McMillion said that Bothra owns a real-estate company — Kaiser Real Estate — that owns 22 properties across Metro Detroit, including $2.8 million worth of condominiums and commercial buildings in downtown Royal Oak, and that investigations are ongoing as to whether any of these properties were purchased with the proceeds of this alleged criminal conspiracy that included massive fraud and abuse of the Medicare and Medicaid programs. The prosecution said Bothra has $7.6 million in a retirement account, owns a $1.6 million home and another home — listed for sale for $1.9 million — on a private island he owns in Lotus Lake in Waterford Township, but that he had told the government he was worth only $10.4 million.

It said he had also failed to tell the government about his real estate company that owns commercial and residential properties and also failed to tell court officials about an Indian bank account with more than $1.2 million and three trips to India in recent years.

The prosecution said that Bothra had also lied in saying that he had no surviving relatives in India, but on questioning, his wife had disclosed to court officials that her husband had eight siblings and several in-laws in India.

Schneider who attended the brief court hearing Jan. 15, said his team of prosecutors would decide shortly whether to appeal the bond.

The previous week, at a detention hearing when U.S. Magistrate Judge Mona Majzoub delayed the decision on whether to release Bothra, who the Detroit News said, “shuffled back to Wayne County Jail in handcuffs and ankle chains, leaving his tearful wife and sobbing daughter in court,” both the prosecution and defense painted contrasting portraits of Bothra.

But the defense, portrayed Bothra “as a respected doctor and benevolent man who adopted a daughter from Mother Teresa’s orphanage in India,” and one of his defense lawyers, Jeffrey Crapko, told the court, “He’s not an impulsive person and has no ability to leave. He has no inclination to, either. He’s ready to defend himself and wants to.”

According to the indictment in December, the scheme started in January 2013 and continued until last November 2018 and involved charging Medicare, Medicaid and Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Michigan for medically unnecessary services and equipment, the indictment alleges.

Bush had also appointed Bothra at the co-chair of the Asian American Coalition for the Bush/Quayle presidential ticket in 1988. Besides being heavily engaged in GOP politics and fundraising during the 1980’s and early 1990’s he was also involved in humanitarian efforts, particularly in educating people on HIV/AIDS and also on the dangers of the use of tobacco and alcohol, and for all of these activities in January 1999, was awarded the Padma Shri — one of the highest civilian honors —by the government of India.

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