A pharmacist from Irvine, Calif., was sentenced Monday to 15 years in prison over a prescription scheme that defrauded the U.S. military's health insurer, Tricare, out of more than $11 million.

A pharmacist from Irvine, Calif., was sentenced Monday to 15 years in prison over a prescription scheme that defrauded the U.S. military's health insurer, Tricare, out of more than $11 million. (Anna Nolte/U.S. Air Force)

A Southern California pharmacist who had been convicted for her role in bilking more than $11 million from U.S. military health insurer Tricare was sentenced this week to 15 years in prison.

Sandy Mai Trang Nguyen, 42, also was ordered to pay $11 million in restitution, a federal judge in the Central District of California said in an order filed Monday.

Prosecutors said Nguyen used her position as the pharmacist in charge of Irvine Wellness Pharmacy to help other schemers fill more than 1,000 bogus prescriptions. The Orange County pharmacy is now defunct.

It was essentially “a fraud factory that was churning out prescriptions solely to make a fast buck,” according to a Justice Department statement Monday.

Nguyen processed approximately 1,150 almost identical prescriptions from 2014 to 2015, the indictment against her said, adding that the pharmacy received an average of more than $11,000 per prescription from Tricare in 2015.

Most of the medications provided are for generic pain, scarring, stretch marks or erectile dysfunction, according to the indictment. The pharmacy also filled prescriptions with vitamins for general wellness, it said.

Nearly all of these prescriptions came from associates of others involved in the fraud ring, who received kickbacks each time Tricare reimbursed a claim, prosecutors said.

They went to people who gave their Tricare insurance information for medications they did not need, the indictment said. Most were never examined by a doctor, according to the court filing.

Miami resident and co-defendant Marcus Orlando Armstrong, 56, who was the pharmacy’s director of operations, was sentenced in March to more than nine years in prison.

Armstrong, Nguyen and Leslie Andre Ezidore, 53, of West Los Angeles, Calif., were named as the ringleaders of the scheme in the government’s criminal complaint.

Ezidore, who pleaded guilty to felony charges and awaits sentencing, used false names and shell companies to hide his control of the Irvine Wellness Pharmacy, an indictment said.

The pharmacy was losing $10,000 a month due to a lack of customers prior to the scheme to bilk Tricare, prosecutors said.

Nguyen testified that she had filled prescriptions that she believed were properly approved, Courthouse News Service reported Monday.

But prosecutors argued that as a licensed pharmacist, the scheme could not have worked without her. They also said that she could have seen that various members of the same families were given the same medications, and that the prescriptions were coming from doctors that didn’t live in the same states as the people receiving the orders.

In November 2022, a jury found Nguyen guilty on 21 counts of health care fraud and one count of obstruction of a federal audit.

A federal judge wanted to give her a lighter sentence but changed his mind when Nguyen declined to speak at sentencing on the advice of her lawyer, who said a bid for leniency could undermine her appeal, Courthouse News Service said Monday.

Another defendant, Alexander Michael Semenik, 51, of Las Vegas, pleaded guilty to felony charges and awaits sentencing. Semenik ran a company that received kickbacks to refer prescriptions to the pharmacy, the government said.

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J.P. Lawrence reports on the U.S. military in Afghanistan and the Middle East. He served in the U.S. Army from 2008 to 2017. He graduated from Columbia Journalism School and Bard College and is a first-generation immigrant from the Philippines.

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