A Florida doctor was sentenced to serve nearly 6 years in prison for a variety of charges relating to her use of fraudulent medications to treat cancer patients.
Diana Anda Norbergs, MD, owned and operated East Lake Oncology, in Palm Harbor, Florida. She was convicted by a federal jury last November for receipt and delivery of misbranded drugs, smuggling goods into the United States, health care fraud, and mail fraud, and her sentence was delivered last week by US District Judge James S. Moody, Jr.
According to testimony and evidence presented during her trial, Norbergs, who is 61, began ordering drugs from unlicensed distributors in foreign countries in 2009. Evidence suggests that some of these distributors sold counterfeit chemotherapy that did not contain the actual active agent. They were packaged for distribution in several foreign countries, including Turkey, India, and Germany, according to the US Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida.
These unlicensed, potentially useless or harmful medications were administered to cancer patients at East Lake Oncology; a total of 66 patients were considered victims in the case. The oncology practice then submitted claims for reimbursement to Medicare, falsely representing the medications as US Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved versions of those drugs. By doing so, the US Attorney claims Norbergs intended to profit off the difference between the Medicare reimbursement and the cheap drugs obtained from abroad.
Norbergs, who was initially indicted in May 2015, testified in her own defense and claimed she thought the drugs she purchased were approved by the FDA, according to the Tampa Bay Times. “I am so sorry for the stress I may have caused you and your family members,” she said during her sentencing hearing, according to the Times. “My patients were the most important thing in my life. I would never intentionally harm anybody.”
The judge sentenced her to 70 months in prison, but she remains free pending an appeal. The judgment also included a financial penalty of more than $800,000, paid mostly to Medicare.
This is not the first such case to surface this year. In February, an oncologist in New Jersey agreed to pay $1.7 million to resolve allegations that he imported cancer drugs illegally and then billed Medicare for them, just as in the Norbergs case.
“Illegally imported drugs avoid the FDA’s rigorous oversight and manufacturing standards,” said Paul J. Fishman, the US Attorney in the New Jersey case. “Health care providers who import those drugs are exposing their patients to serious risks of harm from contaminated or counterfeit products.”