A Cuba woman working as a medical secretary in Olean was caught up in a massive federal health care fraud case for allegedly issuing bogus prescriptions for controlled substances, including hydrocodone.

Karen Melton, 45, was identified by federal authorities Thursday as obtaining controlled substances through fraud. Melton, a medical secretary working for a physician in Olean, was not licensed to prescribe controlled substances. However, Melton allegedly used her access within the office to issue fraudulent prescriptions in her own name in both paper and electronic form, according to the U.S. Attorney of Western New York.

Melton was among dozens of defendants — from New York City physicians to workers in the medical supply industry — swept up by the Justice Department across the northeastern United States. The operation involved more than $800 million in loss and the distribution of more than 3.25 million pills of opioids in “pill mill” clinics.

According to the U.S. Attorney, “the prescriptions issued by Melton were allegedly issued without a legitimate medical purpose. Between September 2016 and May 2019, Melton allegedly issued 59 fraudulent prescriptions for controlled substances, including hydrocodone.”

A licensed nurse practitioner from Orchard Park, the only other defendant listed from Western New York, was also charged with illegally filling out prescriptions for painkillers.

The federal Drug Enforcement Agency conducted the investigation and the cases are being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Michael J. Adler and Misha A. Coulson.

“Under the law, healthcare professionals are obligated to exercise appropriate care and judgment in the manner in which opiates are prescribed and distributed in order to ensure that such substances are, in fact, ‘controlled,’” said U.S. Attorney James P. Kennedy Jr. of the Western District of New York. “When such professionals abandon that obligation and instead engage in acts of fraud and deceit, they will be prosecuted.”

The takedown includes charges against 48 defendants for their roles in submitting over $160 million in fraudulent claims, including charges against 15 doctors or medical professionals, and 24 who were charged for their roles in diverting opioids. The cases span from New York City, to New Jersey and Philadelphia and elsewhere.

The action also included the guilty pleas of three corporate executives, including the vice president of marketing of numerous telemedicine companies and two owners of approximately 25 durable medical equipment companies, for their roles in causing the submission of over $600 million in fraudulent claims to Medicare.

Federal authorities said this is one of the largest health care fraud schemes ever investigated by the FBI and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General and prosecuted by the Department of Justice, which previously resulted in charges against 21 other defendants.

(Jim Eckstrom is executive editor of the Olean Times Herald and Bradford Publishing Co. His email is jeckstrom@oleantimesherald.com.)

Jim Eckstrom is executive editor of the Olean Times Herald and Bradford Publishing Co. His email is jeckstrom@oleantimesherald.com.)