'Who wants to make money?' Court documents outline wild fraud scheme targeting Gilead HIV meds

Gilead Sciences has closed the books on its multimillion-dollar HIV PrEP fraud case. After a court in Miami last month ordered bank account freezes for the “kingpin” defendants in the scheme, Gilead has settled with them for an undisclosed amount.

The case centers on the defendants' alleged fraud of Gilead's access program for HIV medicines. Specifically, Gilead said the "kingpin" defendants recruited people on the street to sign up for preexposure medication for HIV, then pocketed reimbursement payments.

Gilead said the scheme led to losses of more than $68 million in less than two years.

In court documents, Gilead said the defendants dispatched vans to find recruits, who they paid off to submit their identities for enrollment in Gilead's access program. 

Certain defendants also distributed medications without FDA mandated package seals, safety instructions or warnings and instructed pharmacists to violate the label instructions, Gilead said.

Co-conspirators and whistleblowers, including executives at Doctors United Clinic and Florimed Medical Center, exposed the scheme, according to the documents.

The whistleblowers said much of the money leads to the Vesselovs family, owners of United Pharmacy, which has since been shut down. The pharmacy received $41 million in reimbursements for 21,906 bottles of PrEP medicines, according to the filings. 

To get the drugs, the defendants allegedly bribed recruits with cash and about 57,000 prepaid cards.

As part of the scheme, a whistleblower testified a van driver walked around a bus terminal where many homeless people congregated, yelling out, “Who wants to make money?”

Drivers had to fill a quota of eight recruits every day and received $20 per recruit, the documents say. In addition to street recruiting, the Vesselovs allegedly enrolled everyone they could through their clinics, including family, friends and employees. Van drivers sometimes doubled as recruits, with one testifying that he threw the medicine away upon receiving it.

To investigate the scheme, Gilead retained forensic accountant William B. Waldie, a certified public accountant and fraud examiner who served for 24 years as a special agent with the FBI. After 800 hours of analyzing dozens of defendants’ bank accounts, Waldie and his team found that the kingpins kept the majority of the money from Gilead, laundered funds to obscure the source of the money and were spending Gilead’s funds on real estate, private jets, luxury cars, cryptocurrency and expensive jewelry at a “breathtaking rate.”  

The Vesselovs were found to have over 110 bank accounts, which they used to conceal the source of their earnings, the documents say. They bought 25 luxury cars, spent $6 million at casinos and paid $2.9 million on credit cards. Waldie concluded that Gilead's funds will be “completely depleted” if the current spending pattern continues.

Gilead and the defendants entered settlements at the end of April. Under the deals, the defendants will pay a confidential sum and are barred from using Gilead's access program.

If the monetary settlements are not paid by a date set by the court, the amount owed to Gilead will increase substantially.

"This is a critical step toward ensuring public safety and the integrity of Gilead's free drug program," a Gilead spokesperson said in a statement. "Gilead's swift and decisive legal action against these fraudulent schemes, as well as the recent update to the MAP reimbursement model, will help protect Gilead's ability to provide free life-saving HIV medications to eligible individuals for years to come."