Lockyer Announces Medi-Cal Fraud Conviction

Wednesday, January 13, 1999
Contact: (916) 210-6000, agpressoffice@doj.ca.gov

(SAN DIEGO)--Attorney General Bill Lockyer announced today that pharmacy owner Tan ("Tom") Van Vuong, 44, of San Diego, pled guilty yesterday to felony charges of grand theft from the Medi-Cal program. Vuong owned East San Diego Drug Store, Inc., which was located at 4645 El Cajon Boulevard, San Diego. Vuong also entered a guilty plea to felony charges of grand theft and misdemeanor charges of illegal gambling on behalf of the corporation.

"Vuong is the latest member of an organized crime ring that has been running fraudulent pharmacies and clinics in the Southeast Asian communities of San Diego," said Attorney General Bill Lockyer. "This is the eighteenth conviction in our continuing effort to put a stop to this scheme. This conviction should send a clear message to those bilking the taxpayers -- we will not tolerate Medi-Cal fraud."

Vuong and the corporation are scheduled to be sentenced on February 19, 1999. Under the terms of the plea agreement, Vuong will be sentenced to serve six months of work furlough. "Work furlough" allows Vuong to go to his job as a restaurant employee during the day, but spend all other time in custody. Vuong will be barred from working at or owning any business in the health care field unless he obtains prior approval from the Attorney General. The corporation, East San Diego Drug Store, Inc., will be ordered dissolved at sentencing.

Vuong will also be required ordered to pay restitution of $30,000. In addition, he and the corporation were ordered to relinquish their interest in an additional $41,000 frozen by the State Controller's Office.

Vuong was arrested in January 1998, one month after a search warrant was conducted at his pharmacy by agents from the Attorney General's Bureau of Medi-Cal Fraud, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Board of Pharmacy, and U.S. Postal Inspectors. Soon after, auditors from the State Controller's Office joined the investigation. The State Controller halted payment of $41,000 that was about to be paid to East San Diego Drug Store and followed up with an audit. The audit revealed that the pharmacy billed Medi-Cal for significantly more drugs than they actually dispensed to patients.

During undercover operations at East San Diego Drug Store, Vuong and employee Doi Thanh Nguyen paid money to lure patients to bring in prescriptions that would be charged to Medi-Cal. During one visit, the case investigator, Special Agent Lew Berkheimer, saw that the pharmacy had been transformed into a gambling parlor, with display cases pushed aside and two tables of card games going on among about ten men, and stacks of money at stake.

A second owner of East San Diego Drug Store, Dung My Thi ("Rose") Nguyen, of San Carlos, is currently serving a 30-month sentence in federal prison for racketeering related to her ownership of two other pharmacies. Vuong's, co-defendant, Doi Thanh Nguyen, pled to a single count of making illegal payments to lure prescriptions into East San Diego Drug Store. Doi Nguyen was sentenced to community service.

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