Peñitas pharmacist still free after guilty plea

McALLEN — Nearly a year after his co-defendant was sentenced to prison, a Peñitas pharmacist remains free after a court reset his sentencing hearing for a third time, records show.

On Monday, U.S. District Judge Randy Crane granted a motion to reset the sentencing hearing for Omar Espericueta until May 19, 2020 — more than a year after he was initially set to be sentenced in May 2019, the court notes show.

The order, which was sealed by the court, was filed Nov. 14 by Espericueta’s attorney, Carlos A. Garcia, records show.

Espericueta was expected to be sentenced in December 2018, along with his co-defendant, former Pharr commissioner Oscar Elizondo, but his hearing was reset for May 2019 at that hearing.

Right before his sentencing hearing in May, Garcia filed a sealed motion May 8, 2019, requesting a continuance, which the court granted May 10, for Espericueta to be sentenced Aug. 20, 2019, records show.

Again, on Aug. 9, Garcia filed a motion for continuance, under seal, which was granted Aug. 19, resetting Espericueta’s sentencing until Nov. 21, 2019 — with that now being reset for May 2020.

Last December, Elizondo was handed a 22-month prison sentence in connection with what Crane characterized as “blatant fraud,” and “complete ruse,” in which he and Espericueta submitted nearly $2 million in fake claims to Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas.

Government prosecutors alleged that during a five-month period in 2015, Elizondo and Espericueta worked with contacts at local school districts, municipalities and small businesses, who had self-funded health insurance programs through Blue Cross Blue Shield, offering meals, drinks and promises of free prescription pain patches and scar creams in exchange for their insurance information, but many never received any of the products or saw a doctor to obtain a valid prescription, a federal investigation revealed.

Federal authorities said the pair used the information they collected to submit fraudulent and medically unnecessary claims to Blue Cross.

“ Other employees saw a doctor, but it was a doctor to whom Espericueta was allegedly paying kickbacks in the form of cash, loans, and prescription drugs,” the document stated. “In some instances, the defendants set up a temporary office for the doctor in a vacant office or a rented recreational vehicle near the restaurant where they solicited employees for the sole purpose of writing fraudulent prescriptions.”

The indictment stated the duo utilized an RV as a temporary mobile doctor’s office for Dr. Pedro Garcia for the purpose of writing fraudulent prescriptions for employees of insured entities. The RV was parked in the parking lot outside restaurants where employees were recruited. Through the dinner, employees were directed to the RV.

Elizondo, who originally faced two counts of healthcare fraud, two counts of aggravated identity theft, and one count of conspiracy to commit healthcare fraud, was facing up to 10 years in prison.

Eventually, Elizondo pleaded guilty to one count of healthcare fraud in November 2017, with an agreement that prosecutors would dismiss the remaining counts filed against him at the time of sentencing.

In addition to the punishment and as part of the plea agreement signed by Elizondo in November 2017, Elizondo will be required to pay back $1,484,268.05 to Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas, court records show.

Elizondo, 49, remains in federal custody at a low security bureau of prison’s facility in Oakdale, Louisiana and is scheduled to be released in July 18, 2020, records show.

Upon release Elizondo will have to serve three years of supervised release.

During Elizondo’s sentencing, Espericueta, a native of Palmhurst who pleaded guilty to one count of healthcare fraud, also in December 2017, appeared for his own scheduled sentencing hearing but the hearing was reset for the aforementioned May 2019 setting

The 47-year-old, who is free on a $10,000 bond, is now expected to present himself before Crane May 2020 to be formally sentenced, records show.