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Wednesday, August 28,2013

Indicted

Lansing doctor Shannon Wiggins and husband indicted on several federal charges, including conspiracy to commit health care fraud and improperly distributing controlled substances

by Andy Balaskovitz

Mohamad Abduljaber allegedly had a nice little system going for a few years. Abduljaber, a city-identified “problematic slumlord” who owns nearly 40 properties in Lansing, would send his tenants to his wife, physician Shannon Wiggins, for hard prescription drugs like OxyContin and methadone. They’d see her monthly and be billed each time for an office visit, even though they didn’t need the medication.

So claims a federal grand jury in an indictment issued Thursday that charges the couple with conspiracy to commit health care fraud and receiving kickbacks for unnecessary diagnostic treatments paid for by federal programs like Medicaid and Medicare.

As if to complete the circle, those tenants would turn around and sell the prescription pills to pay rent to Abduljaber, according to anonymous sources.

Wiggins, who owns East Michigan Family Care at 2310 E. Michigan Ave. and 4415 N. Grand River Ave. in Lansing, is also charged with nine counts of improperly distributing oxycodone and methadone — both schedule II substances — to a patient over a four-month period in 2008-‘09. Three of those allege she distributed 2,700 OxyContin and 2,700 methadone pills to a patient named “B.J.” on Jan. 23, 2009. Each of those nine charges comes with a maximum prison sentence of 20 years.

In all, Wiggins is facing 15 counts and her husband eight.

READ THE FULL INDICTMENT HERE.

The two-story red structure on the 2300 block of E. Michigan Ave. was also once advertised as a medical marijuana certification clinic.

Abduljaber acted as the office manager at East Michigan Family Care, according to the indictment by the Internal Revenue Service’s Detroit Criminal Investigation Unit. On top of the six counts he faces with Wiggins, which also include filing false tax returns, Abduljaber is also alleged to have committed food stamp fraud and giving a false statement to federal authorities about it.

Abduljaber, who was a subject in a 2007 City Pulse cover story about slumlords, is listed as owning 35 properties in Lansing. The Lansing City Attorney’s Office identified Abduljaber as a “problematic slumlord” in 2007.

The couple faces potential forfeitures of $1.4 million and the properties on Grand River and Michigan, according to the indictment.

Wiggins, an osteopathic physician, has been on probation since November 2011 for her role in overprescribing pharmaceuticals going back to February 2006. It involved eight instances of overprescribing pain medication to patients between February 2006 and May 2010. One involved an accidental overdose. She pleaded no contest.

After an investigation by the state Attorney General’s Office, the state Board of Osteopathic Medicine & Surgery also issued a $5,000 fine but let her keep her license.

The federal investigation against Wiggins goes back at least until January 2012, when City Pulse reported that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration had executed a federal search warrant on the East Side practice and seized seven guns from the couple’s Jolly Road home in Okemos. At a probation violation hearing shortly after the raids, Abduljaber’s attorney, Gregory Crockett, said the guns belonged to Wiggins’ 80-year-old father. Abduljaber was on probation stemming from a domestic abuse incident.

The indictment appears to be a result of the IRS and DEA investigation at that time, which also included the Lansing and Meridian Township police departments.

The first count, conspiracy to commit health care fraud, alleges that between January 2007 and April 2011, the couple and an unnamed physical therapist received payments from Medicare, Medicaid and Blue Cross Blue Shield of

Michigan by filing claims on unnecessary diagnostic testing. Abduljaber allegedly “solicited his tenants and other associates” to arrange for the testing and for receiving controlled substances, the indictment says. In exchange for setting up the physical therapist to perform testing on patients, the therapist “shared the proceeds of the claims … with Wiggins and Abduljaber through referral payments and inflated, non-market rent payments” of, in at least one agreement, $1,500 a month, according to the indictment. The penalty for such a charge is fines and not more than 10 years in prison.

The second count, conspiracy to pay and receive health-care kickbacks, spans January 2004 to April 2011. It alleges the couple would receive payments from the physical therapist in exchange for patient referrals, resulting in claims submitted to Medicare and Medicaid. Over six specific dates in that period, the couple allegedly received $5,300 in exchange for patient referrals. The felony carries a fine of not more than $25,000 or not more than five years in prison.

As for the third count, conspiracy to distribute controlled substances outside the usual course of professional practice, Abduljaber allegedly solicited patients to Wiggins’ practice to receive methadone, oxycodone and hydrocodone monthly — even though it served “no legitimate medical purpose” — and get billed for an office visit. When patients were discharged for not needing the substances by other practitioners at the practice, Abduljaber would allegedly authorize the patients to come back and be referred to Wiggins. He also allegedly removed drug-testing kits from the office to make it difficult for other practitioners to determine whether patients were using or abusing controlled substances. The maximum prison sentence under this charge is 20 years.

Additionally, the couple faces three charges related to filing tax returns. In 2012, the couple allegedly reported $910,282 in gross receipts but knew the practice had gross receipts “substantially exceeding this amount.” The felony carries a maximum $100,000 fine and a maximum three years in prison. In 2010 and 2011, the couple failed to file income tax returns, a misdemeanor, according to allegations.

Crockett, Abduljaber’s attorney, said Monday, “My client is surprised and very unhappy to be indicted. We’re still reviewing the complaint together and deciding what steps to take next.”

To his knowledge, none of the couple’s property or money had yet been forfeited.

Attempts to reach Wiggins were unsuccessful. An assistant at the East Side clinic who answered the phone Tuesday morning said the clinic has stayed open. She said Wiggins was busy seeing patients.

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