Case II: Chapter 12: The Trap is Set and Sprung

Case II: Chapter 12: The Trap is Set and Sprung

Several weeks later, Dudley was on the third floor of the main building repairing a faulty light fixture. He glanced out the window and saw Lt. Garcia drive into the parking lot followed by three more Albuquerque police vehicles. Isabella had not mentioned anything about a meeting with Garcia and he was confident that she would have alerted him. Dudley finished his repair job, left the apartment unit and hurried to a window at the end of the hallway where he could observe the parking lot. A few moments later, Garcia came back into view and he was leading Horace Johnson to a waiting police van in handcuffs.

Dudley quickly went downstairs to locate Isabella Duncan. He approached her in the hallway and was about to speak when she put her finger to her lips and motioned for him to follow her into her office. Once inside, she closed the door behind them.

“Garcia called less than twenty minutes ago and I could not locate you to alert you. His team has made considerable progress in the last few weeks and they think they have figured most everything out. Their strategy is to pressure Horace Johnson into providing some key information that would confirm their major conclusions. They assume that Johnson’s very public arrest will cause their primary suspects to take precipitous action and they’re waiting to spring several traps. That’s all he told me this morning. He promised to give us both a full report once they’ve completed the remainder of their arrests.”

“So, my suspicions about Johnson proved to be correct?”

“I presume so, but Garcia did say that he was a minor player. They are just using his arrest to shake the major players into action.”

“I guess I can wait to hear the full story. I will go back to my ToDo List and try to keep my mind occupied until we hear from him. I do plan to continue my exercises and will try to avoid any contact with Ekaterina Bubolsky.”

“That would be wise. I’ll call you as soon as I hear from Garcia.”

Things were relatively quiet for Matthew Dudley for the next several weeks. He fell into a routine of daily exercise followed by various repair jobs throughout the La Vida Aureo complex. The only change he noticed was that Ekaterina Bubolsky was absent from the physical therapy facilities.   He asked Hans if he knew anything and he had replied, “She called in sick one morning about a month ago and hasn’t been here since.”

Isabella stopped Dudley in the hallway one afternoon and told him that Lt. Garcia would be in her office at 4:00 o’clock that afternoon to give them both a “full report” of the results of the police investigation.

Garcia opened the meeting by saying, “Well, Doc, we want to thank you once again for alerting the police to a rather nasty situation developing right under our noses. As it turns out, there were several prescription pain medication scams operating throughout the City, essentially all connected with legitimate healthcare programs at retirement facilities and particularly at nursing homes. Let me try to summarize what we learned through our investigation and undercover operations.”

“There were a variety of schemes designed to basically “intercept” prescription pain medications as they made their way from the pharmacy to the consumer patient. These opioid-type drugs were then sold through other channels to the street market, primarily to young adults in some of Albuquerque’s better neighborhoods.”

“The overall operation was initially conceived and directed by Dr. Egon Malinikov at the Sierra Vista Orthopedic Surgery Center. He recruited a number of physical therapists whose job it was to basically steal the drugs from unsuspecting patients. Many of those were Dr. Malinikov’s hip and knee replacement surgery patients, such as your own Horace Johnson. There were also many people like your Mrs. Arthur who were simply tricked into handing over their prescriptions to one of Malinikov’s operatives. This was particularly happening at nursing homes and some senior centers.”

“There were numerous drug substitution schemes involved. Typically, the patient’s real prescription drugs were replaced with a simple sugar pill or, in some cases, an actual pain medication from some off-brand foreign source. The protein shake or smoothie substitution scheme used by your Ms. Bubosky was particularly ingenious. She replaced the prescription medication with over the counter analgesics like aspirin and/or acetaminophen and disguised everything in a tasty drink. Her technique was more effective than many others because she included analgesics which provided some measure of pain relief. Several other physical therapists in this criminal network had adopted her technique.”

“We also discovered several instances of direct theft or fraud. A few of the more enterprising individuals set up “pyramid schemes” on their own. They used nurses’ aides and other lower-paid individuals to directly steal prescription medications from unsuspecting people, typically older citizens. It was a variation of the tactic used on Mrs. Arthur. The aide would offer to pick up a prescription and then pocket a portion of the pills. If the person questioned the aide, they were provided a tragic story about why the pills were stolen. The most common story we heard was that the aide’s brother was a veteran and could not get his medication through the VA. Another version was that the aide’s mother had cancer and could not afford pain medication. By playing on the elder person’s sympathy, the aide was able to steal a portion of the prescription, sometimes repeatedly.”

“What about Horace Johnson, asked Dudley. How did he fit into the scheme of things? He didn’t strike me as the criminal type, just an easy mark for Ekaterina.”

“Poor Horace, laughed Garcia. He had been recruited by Ekaterina to “churn” his prescriptions. His role was to have Dr. Malinikov write an excessive number of prescriptions for him and then turn the drugs over to Ekaterina when he came here for physical therapy. As you related to me, she used her rather provocative Betty Boop personality to “encourage” him to do her bidding. It did not take much persuading by the police for him to tell us what was going on, at least the part he was aware of. He’ll probably avoid jail and just get off with some probation for helping us break the case.”

“By telling me about Johnson’s comments to you, Doc, you alerted us to another potential criminal activity. Johnson implied that Ekaterina was using sex to encourage him to have his other knee replaced so that he could continue to visit her for what he called “her special massage therapy”. Apparently, Ekaterina was paid a “bounty” for recruiting patients for Dr. Malinikov. If we can substantiate this, there will be additional charges against him”

“The turning point in our investigation was the decision to “follow the money”. Dr. Malinikov only took a portion of the final drug sales. His primary motivation was the money he was paid by the insurance companies for the actual operations. By focusing on people like Horace Johnson with so-called Cadillac insurance plans, he was able to supplement an already lucrative practice. His justification was that the reimbursements were being reduced so he decided to perform more surgeries to compensate. His attitude concerning the excessive amount of drug prescriptions was that he was doing the patients a favor and simply fulfilling their request. Unfortunately, none of those actions are illegal, just unethical. But, receiving a “kick-back” from the drug sales provided sufficient evidence to arrest him. He may get off, but we’ve also contacted the State Medical Board and he will probably lose his license to practice.”

“Essentially everyone else involved faces criminal charges for drug distribution and/or drug sales. We’re encouraging the District Attorney to seek significant fines and jail sentences to send a signal to others who might consider this activity.”

“Anyway, it appears that we’ve completely shut down this specific operation and arrested the major players. One of the more disturbing things we learned, however, is that too many doctors are far too willing to recommend surgery as well as write prescriptions for these very powerful and highly addictive opioid-based pain medications. ”

“This investigation has opened our eyes to the growing problem with these “legal drugs” and we are currently revising our approach. In the past, we have had our hands full with drugs like cocaine and methamphetamines, etc. because these were always connected with the gangs and criminal elements in the metro area. But these prescription medications are obviously a much more serious problem than we suspected and potentially as damaging to the City and its citizens. Personally, I suspect that what we’ve uncovered with this one doctor and his operation is only the “tip of the iceberg” so to speak. I will push to dig deeper into this as quickly as possible.”

“Hopefully, our actions were able to essentially stop a potential problem here at La Vida Aureo before it got out of hand, offered Isabella.   But, we must remain alert going forward as long as we continue to operate a physical therapy section. We certainly appreciate your prompt action, Lieutenant. Is there anything we can do to support you and the police?”

“Yes. The information you provided from your colleagues at other facilities was very helpful. I would ask you to continue your dialog with them and expand this network to as many other facilities and organizations as possible. This experience has shown us that the elderly population is particularly vulnerable to these scams and we need to support them as much as possible. I am convinced that information and education are key elements to being successful and I am convinced this problem will continue to grow.”

Lieutenant Garcia stood and thanked Isabella and Dudley once again as he left. “I will try to stop by periodically. Maybe we can have any future meetings in your dining room. That would give me an opportunity to pay my respects to Señora Angostura.”

“You are welcome any time, Lieutenant.”

 

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