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Palm Harbor doctor convicted of buying unapproved cancer drugs, defrauding Medicare

TAMPA — Diana Anda Norbergs, a retired Palm Harbor oncologist, was convicted in federal court Friday of purchasing discounted, non-government approved cancer drugs and billing Medicare for the more expensive U.S. versions.

A federal jury deliberated about two hours before finding Norbergs guilty of all 45 criminal charges against her, which included receipt and delivery of misbranded drugs, smuggling goods into the U.S., health care fraud and mail fraud.

Norbergs, 61, hung her head and wept as U.S. District Judge James Moody read the verdict.

"Very disappointed," her attorney, George Tragos, said afterward. "I'm sure we'll appeal the verdict."

The jury's decision capped a two-week trial at which Norbergs testified she had no idea her clinic, East Lake Oncology, was using unapproved drugs from unlicensed foreign distributors.

The case against her centered on a multitude of business records dating between 2009 and 2012. The records included price comparisons between drugs approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and an assortment of less expensive ones — with names like MabThera, Eprex, Ribomustin, Neulastim and Zometa — that were not approved.

There were also checks written to pay for drugs, handwritten notes about purchases and shipping information on mailed items.

Some drugs were shipped directly to East Lake Oncology from Canada or the United Kingdom. Some, when they arrived, included instructions written in foreign languages. Some were later administered to cancer patients, though the defense noted there were no allegations that any were harmed.

Norbergs, testifying in her defense, said she believed the drugs she was receiving were FDA-approved and that the companies could sell in the U.S. Had she known otherwise, she said, she would have discontinued using them or buying from those companies.

She said her office manager, Kelly Krouse, handled much of the paperwork and business contacts related to drug purchases.

But U.S. attorneys said that when Krouse questioned how the drugs would make it past U.S. Customs, Norbergs had told her the items would be improperly labeled as gifts. The defense, in its closing arguments, asserted that was not true.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jay Trezevant questioned Norbergs about documents relating to purchases from Quality Specialty Products, a drug wholesaler headquartered in Canada. In 2012, the FDA issued a warning that the company had sold counterfeit versions of certain drugs inside the U.S.

Among the government's evidence were checks written to Quality Specialty Products bearing Norbergs' signature.

In April 2012, Norbergs received a letter from the FDA warning that her clinic may have purchased drugs from unlicensed foreign suppliers. That followed a visit Norbergs received in 2011 from an FDA agent, who gave her a subpoena for business records. Prosecutors said the agent warned Norbergs to stop buying foreign, unapproved drugs, but the purchases continued.

They said her motive was greed.

"There was plenty of information that told her to change her ways," Assistant U.S. Attorney Adam Saltzman said in closing arguments. "But she didn't change her ways. She didn't care."

Norbergs' most serious convictions each carry a maximum sentence of 20 years. She also faces a forfeiture judgement of $700,000, the amount prosecutors say she gained from her crimes.

Her sentencing is scheduled for Feb. 16.

Contact Dan Sullivan at dsullivan@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3386. Follow @TimesDan.

Palm Harbor doctor convicted of buying unapproved cancer drugs, defrauding Medicare 11/18/16 [Last modified: Friday, November 18, 2016 5:24pm]
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