Attorney General Charlie Crist has announced that a Lake Worth, Fla. man has been sentenced to prison for defrauding a nationwide settlement fund intended to help cancer patients who overpaid for the cancer-fighting drug Taxol.
Martti Antila, 61, received a 6-year prison sentence for submitting more than $77,000 in false claims to the Taxol settlement fund. The case was prosecuted by the Attorney General’s Office of Statewide Prosecution.
An investigation conducted by the Attorney General’s Antitrust Division and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement revealed that Antila used other people’s names and forged doctors’ signatures to file more than 50 false claims for Taxol settlement checks. Each claim contained a statement that the claimant had used Taxol and was due $525 to $3,000 in refunds. Further investigation by FDLE discovered that similar names were used in fraudulent claims submitted to the State of Florida’s unemployment program between 2002 and 2004, totaling over $112,000 in paid claims.
“Stealing money intended to help cancer patients is about as low as it gets. This settlement fund was set up to help those suffering from a dreadful disease, not to pad the pockets of a con man,” said Crist. “We commend the judge for a sentence that reflects the seriousness of this crime.”
The $12.5-million Taxol consumer settlement fund was the result of an antitrust case filed against Bristol-Myers Squibb by the Florida Attorney General’s Office and attorneys general from the 49 other states, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories. The lawsuit alleged that the company obtained invalid patents for Taxol, which delayed the availability of lower-cost generic substitutes. As a result of the company’s actions, patients had to pay higher prices for the drug. The settlement was approved in November 2003, and victims were asked to submit claims by Feb. 29, 2004.
Checks from the settlement fund were distributed to patients by the Attorney General’s Office. In order to make the refund process as easy as possible for cancer patients, claim forms were readily available on the internet, and victims could print them out and send them to the settlement fund for processing. Law enforcement officers believe Antila used more than 50 names of supposed patients and the names of at least 11 doctors to create his fraudulent claims.
Antila was charged with grand theft and 23 counts of communications fraud. The sentence was handed down by Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Jorge Labarga, who reserved jurisdiction to consider restitution hearings at a later date.
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