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Federal jury convicts four Detroit-area physicians of "assembly line" health fraud scheme

a doctor inspecting a model of a spinal cord.
Adobe Stock

After a four week trial, a federal jury has found four Detroit area doctors guilty of conspiracy and health care fraud. 

Prosecutors say they operated an "assembly line" practice involving unnecessary spinal injections and high dose opioid prescriptions.   

Spilios Pappas, Joseph Betro,  Tariq Omar,  and Mohammed Zahoor saw patients for pain at Tri-County Group clinics from 2008 through 2016. 

They insisted each patient get an unnecessary spinal injection, for which the physicians billed insurance companies a thousand dollars or more. 

Only then would they give patients a prescription for 30 milligram pills of oxycodone; a dose prosecutors said is only appropriate for terminally ill people. 

Some of their patients had real pain, some were drug dealers, and some were addicted to drugs.

Prosecutors say some patients developed more pain from the injections than they had before, or got open holes in their backs. 

Some of the prescribed pills ended up being sold illegally. 

Prosecutors say insurance companies paid Tri-County Group more for the spinal injections than any other clinic in the United States. And one of the doctors, Spilious Pappas, was the seventh highest prescriber of high dose oxycodone in the state of Michigan.   

All four will be sentenced in July.

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Radio. She began her career at Michigan Radio as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.