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Published:October 28th, 2006 06:37 EST
Thousands Injected With Phony Flu Vaccine

Thousands Injected With Phony Flu Vaccine

By SOP newswire

Anticipating another tough flu season, some 1,100 employees at a Texas-based oil company lined up last fall to get flu shots during a company-sponsored health fair. Little did they—or their employer—know that after rolling up their sleeves, they'd be injected with water, not vaccine. And they weren't the only ones to receive the fake shots—residents of retirement communities and others in the Houston area got them, too.

How'd it happen? It was part of an elaborate scam orchestrated over several months by a pair of Houston-area suspects hoping to cash in on the insurance money.

And we do mean elaborate. Here's how the man and woman allegedly staged their ruse:
  • First, they set up fake health care offices in three different locations, staffed them with unlicensed "medical practitioners," and hired a few unsuspecting licensed nurses to make the offices look legit.
  • Next, they used the woman's connections from her job as an office manager in a doctor's office to market bogus flu shots and other health care services to doctors, churches, pharmacies, retirement communities, and others in Texas, Louisiana, Ohio, and Colorado.
  • The suspects then ordered syringes, vials of sterilized water to serve as the fake vaccine, and other medical supplies from legitimate medical suppliers. To cover their tracks and make the vaccine appear—at least on paper—to be legitimate, they forged invoices and other documents.
  • The nurses hired by the pair unknowingly administered thousands of fake shots. The suspects also provided syringes pre-filled with the fake vaccine to at least one doctor's office. That put the health of some unsuspecting victims at risk, since the pair frequently didn't bother to use proper hygienic methods to fill the syringes.
  • After the shots were given, the suspects created fake medical records, submitted fraudulent claims to Medicare, Medicaid, and various insurance companies, and then sat back and waited for the insurance reimbursement checks to start rolling in.

How were the suspects caught? One of the nurses got suspicious and called us after discovering that there were no vials of vaccine and that the man and woman could not provide the manufacturer tracking numbers for the vaccine.

A joint investigation followed with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Department of Health and Human Services, Texas Department of State Health Services, and Texas Attorney General, with help from Harris County Public Health and Environmental Services. Ultimately, we learned that the man and woman had no medical experience and didn't possess valid medical licenses. And as FBI agents arrived to arrest the man, they caught him allegedly trying to discard left-over syringes in a dumpster near his office—a last ditch effort, so to speak, to hide evidence of the crime.

Now the pair is facing 14 federal criminal charges, including conspiracy and various counts of tampering with a consumer product. And thankfully, FDA tests found no harmful bacteria or substances in the vaccine or on the syringes.