A jury acquitted a Tulsa neurologist on Monday of charges accusing him of billing Medicare for patient treatments with Botox that was not approved for use in the United States.
Dr. Gregory Sinclair Connor, 61, faced up to 10 years in prison had he been convicted of the fraud charges.
“Don’t ever underestimate the power of the government to abuse its citizens,” Connor’s attorney, Mark Lyons, said after the verdict was rendered.
Lyons said he didn’t know exactly what caused the jury to issue the not guilty verdicts.
“I can’t speculate, but what we did submit into evidence in front of the judge was proof on 34 other occasions throughout the U.S., U.S. Attorney’s Offices have declined to prosecute (these types of cases) because there is no prosecutive merit in it,” Lyons said.
“They tried, in my estimation, to make Dr. Connor a test case here for the quote Botox Police unquote, which has been railed against before Congress, in the newspapers and at the FDA,” he said.
U.S. Attorney Trent Shores issued the following statement following the verdict:
“The American justice system is the best in the world, in part because the ultimate verdict is determined through a fair and transparent process established by our Founding Fathers.
“The government must prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. A defendant is guaranteed the opportunity to see and hear all the witnesses against him and may, if he so chooses, present a defense. Today, the jury returned a verdict of not guilty, and we will respect that verdict.”
Connor denied knowing that his use of the Botox, which prosecutors said was packaged for use in other countries, was illegal.
A grand jury on April 2 initially named Connor in a six-count indictment alleging health care fraud, fraud related to the use of misbranded drugs and aggravated identity theft related to the use of a patient’s identity while committing health care fraud.
On Sept. 5, a grand jury returned a superseding indictment that added 35 counts of health care fraud. Prosecutors dismissed two of the four identity theft counts, leaving a total of 39 counts for trial.
Prosecutors say the investigation into Connor’s activities began in January 2017, when U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents intercepted a package addressed to his practice, Neurological Center of Oklahoma, at 6585 S. Yale Ave. in Tulsa.
The package contained Botox that was labeled differently from Botox approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, prosecutors said.
A subsequent investigation by the FDA found that Connor had been using Botox from sources not approved by the FDA that was destined for other countries, including Pakistan, Malta and Great Britain, according to prosecutors.
Connor said he had sought a cheaper source for the drug in part because his Botox treatments cost more than Medicare would allow and because he believed that the drug’s manufacturer, Allergan, was “immoral.”
Over the course of a year, Connor estimated that he lost about $600 on each Medicare patient he treated with Botox before switching to a cheaper supplier of the drug.
Prosecutors say Connor’s business records indicate that he stopped purchasing Botox directly from Allergan, which was the sole FDA-approved supplier, in 2009.
Prosecutors claimed that Connor bought Botox from an unapproved FDA supplier beginning in 2009. Trial evidence indicated that the Botox at issue was purchased from a company that claimed to be in Canada.
FDA regulations require that Botox used in the U.S. be purchased through a California supplier that has been approved by the FDA, according to testimony from an FDA investigator.
Connor maintained that the Botox he used was safe and effective.
One patient of Connor’s testified that Connor used Botox to treat his muscle spasms.
“He’s been the best doctor I ever had,” said Gordon Couger when asked about Connor.
Couger said he was unaware that the Botox used to treat him in 2014 was not approved for use in the U.S. by the FDA.
“No,” Couger replied when asked if knowing so would change his opinion of Connor. “The shots worked.”
Connor testified Friday that at the time he didn’t know whether the Botox he used had been approved for use in the U.S.
“All I know is the boxes looked exactly the same,” Connor said, adding that he achieved “fantastic results” when he treated patients with the Botox made for other countries.
But Assistant U.S. Attorney Melody Nelson was dubious of Connor’s claim about the legality of his actions.
“If he is not the person who is supposed to know you are supposed to use FDA-approved drugs, who is?” Nelson asked during closing arguments Friday.
Lyons said Connor will continue to treat patients with Botox. But, Lyons said, Connor has been purchasing the drug from the sole FDA-approved source.
“This is just pharmaceutical companies raping patients here in the U.S. and, more importantly, since these were all Medicare patients, just raping the government for excessive fees,” Lyons said.