Fraud charges against Indian-American doctor dropped 5 years after indictment

Dr. Sreekrishna Cheruvu

Five years after Dr. Sreekrishna Cheruvu was indicted with allegedly cheating local health insurers, federal prosecutors have dismissed charges against the Indian-American physician from New York as part of a "non-prosecution agreement", news reports said last week.

It said U.S. Attorney James Kennedy and Williamsville anesthesiologist Cheruvu have come to terms on an agreement that will dismiss all criminal charges against Cheruvu.

Cheruvu, who treated patients for opioid addiction, was charged in 2014 after he allegedly defrauded insurers out of $628,000. He pleaded guilty in 2018 in federal court to reduced charges of theft from a health care benefit program.

Cheruvu later moved to withdraw the guilty plea, and his request was granted in March 2019 by a federal judge, according to a Buffalo Law Journal report quoting the U.S. Attorney’s office.

The FBI’s investigation into the billing practices of Cheruvu and his addiction therapy practice, had led to a 13-count indictment accusing him of cheating local health insurers.

“Dr. Cheruvu was innocent,” said Mark E. Schamel, his Washington, D.C., defense attorney. He never broke the law,” according to an Aug. 25 report in the Buffalo News.

It said the agreement, which is with Cheruvu's medical practice, not him, ends a prosecution that accused the doctor of billing insurers for addiction therapy services when he was out of the country.

At the time, the government claimed he overcharged Health Now, Independent Health and Excellus by about $628,000 over a five-year period. Schamel was quoted as saying that the allegations were baseless from the outset but, because of the government's overzealousness, turned a simple billing dispute into a criminal prosecution. “This was an embarrassingly horrific excuse for an investigation,” he said.

Kennedy said his office continued to collect and evaluate evidence since the criminal and forfeiture cases were filed in 2014 and found that a non-prosecution and compliance agreement was appropriate.

“It was never a dispute over the quality of care provided by Dr. Cheruvu. … Through that process new evidence came to light and ... we determined that a non-criminal disposition was the just result,” Kennedy was quoted as saying. The U.S. Attorney added that the civil forfeiture case pending with the doctor is being resolved with the government.

Cheruvu received his medical degree from Guntur Medical College NTR and has been in practice for more than 20 years.

During his trial last year, before taking misdemeanor plea deal, Cheruvu argued that his case was about mistakes and complications, not deceit and dishonesty, the reports said.

According to Buffalo News, his lawyers, including Herbert L. Greenman, also pointed to Cheruvu's treatment of opioid addicts since his own recovery several years ago and his reputation as an exceptional doctor. “I know it's hard to believe the government got it wrong, but they did.” Schamel was quoted as at one point in his opening statement.

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