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Ivan Robinson

Other Federal Exonerations for Fraud
In February 2013, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) began investigating Ivan Robinson, then a 41-year-old nurse practitioner who ran several pain clinics in Washington D.C. The DEA would later say that several area pharmacists told the agency that they became suspicious because of the number of young people seeking to fill Robinson’s oxycodone prescriptions and because the prescriptions were so uniform in dose and strength.

The DEA sent in three undercover agents. Robinson specialized in back pain, and he declined to treat the agent who said she had foot pain. The other two agents claimed back pain. Robinson examined the agents and then prescribed his usual amount of oxycodone. The examination cost $370, and Robinson required his patients to pay in cash or with a money order.

On June 19, 2013, federal agents executed a search warrant at two of Robinson’s clinics and his residence. Robinson was not arrested, but two DEA agents interviewed him about his practice. He agreed to surrender his DEA registration, a certification that allowed him to prescribe controlled substances. After the agents left, Robinson withdrew $108,000 from his bank account.

Nearly three years later, on June 7, 2016, Robinson was indicted in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on 55 counts of distributing oxycodone without a legitimate medical purpose. A superseding indictment filed on April 27, 2017, increased the fraud charges to 61 counts and also added two counts of money laundering. The fraud charges were tied to eight patients who received oxycodone prescriptions from Robinson.

Prior to trial, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Washington dropped 18 of the fraud charges. Separately, Robinson’s attorneys tried to suppress statements Robinson made to the DEA agents during the search of his clinics. The motion said that Robinson had in effect been under arrest during the search and not read his Miranda rights prior to his interview with the agents. Judge Colleen Kollar-Kottelly denied the motion on June 23, 2017.

Robinson’s trial began on July 14, 2017. Several of the patients named in the indictment testified about their visits to Robinson and the prescriptions he provided them. One testified that the clinic was “a place to get easy medication.”

Two DEA agents testified that they posed as patients and presented Robinson with false MRIs of their purported back trouble. They said that Robinson made no effort to confirm the accuracy of the MRI or conduct a proper examination. They said that Robinson sold them a prescription for 60 tablets of 30-milligram oxycodone for a $370 money order. On their visits, the agents used recording devices. The recordings showed Robinson seeing patients in groups, not conducting exams, and telling the patients to get their money orders from a store across the street.

In addition, four pharmacists testified that they had stopped filling Robinson’s prescriptions. Karen Thompson, for example, said: “We just stopped filling because it was kind of questionable. A lot of the patients were young, in their early 20s. A lot of them male. They didn’t seem to have any physical ailments. And it was just the volume of prescriptions we were getting, it was just kind of questionable. I didn’t think the oxycodone was being used for, like, a legitimate medical use.” Another pharmacist said Robinson’s practice was “too sketchy for us to deal with.”

With only one exception, the testimony of the pharmacists didn’t directly relate to the patients named in the indictment.

Sahr Bockai Jr. managed the Neighborhood Pharmacy, which was just a few blocks from Robinson’s pain clinic in the Anacostia section of Washington. He testified that on many mornings there would be a line of people outside the pharmacy waiting to get money orders. He said the store sold as much as $11,000 in money orders a day in the amount of $370.

Bockai testified he did not know if the people purchasing the money orders were Robinson’s patients, but he said they were “not from this area.” He also said that the volume concerned him enough to call Western Union.

After Bockai finished testifying, prosecutors said they had inadvertently failed to disclose a statement Bockai made to investigators that would have impeached his testimony because it had a substantially lower sales figure. The statement also said that Bockai had asked his uncle—not Western Union—about the volume, and his uncle told him not to worry about it.

The government said the mistake was due to a clerical mix-up that misplaced the statements from Bockai with those from his father, Sahr Bockai Sr., the store’s pharmacist and owner. (Bockai Sr. did not testify.) Robinson’s attorneys chose not to recall Bockai Jr. and elicited testimony about the discrepancy through testimony from a DEA agent.

Dr. Mark Romanoff, an anesthesiologist with a specialty in pain management, testified as an expert witness for the government. He said that his review of Robinson’s charts and electronic records showed that Robinson did not perform proper physical exams, did not collect adequate medical histories, and developed inaccurate treatment plans. He said that Robinson’s relationship with his patients was insufficient and not therapeutic.

He concluded that the 43 prescriptions before the jury were prescribed by Robinson outside the legitimate course of professional practice and not for a legitimate medical purpose.

During his testimony, Romanoff said he did not interview any of Robinson’s patients. “The problem with asking patients is that they’re not—normally, they’re not medical professionals,” he said. “So they wouldn’t have the body of knowledge to understand if the exam was appropriate for you. They wouldn’t have the body of knowledge to know whether they should’ve asked different questions than the ones they did, or if they asked any questions ... So when you ask patients, they don’t really know what the right thing is.”

Robinson did not testify. Dr. Erica Brock, a chiropractor who worked with Robinson, testified that Robinson would call the police on patients who used fake MRIs to get medication. Dr. Yolanda Lewis-Ragland testified that Robinson needed to use “adequate pain management” as part of his therapy for treating patients by manipulating their spines.

On August 10, 2017, after deliberating for more than two days, the federal jury acquitted Robinson on one fraud charge and convicted him of the 42 others, along with the two money-laundering charges. The jury rendered a separate verdict ordering Robinson to forfeit $108,000 and a 2012 Volvo.

Robinson’s sentencing was delayed, but he was still remanded into custody after his conviction. Although the available records don’t provide an exact date, Robinson was eventually released to home confinement after several years in a residential-detention center.

Robinson moved for a new trial on October 20, 2017. His new attorneys said that Romanoff’s testimony was unreliable because his review of the records was inadequate, in part because it did not include most of the patients named in the indictment. Similarly, the motion said the testimony of the pharmacists was also flawed, because their suspicions about Robinson and reluctance to fill his prescriptions weren’t tied to the patients in the indictment.

“The pharmacists were not noticed as expert witnesses, they were not qualified to issue expert opinions about the legitimacy of prescription writing, as opposed to prescription dispensing, and they lacked either a reliable methodology or sufficient facts and data to support an opinion that Dr. Robinson’s practice was improper,” the motion said.

The motion also said prosecutors had knowingly presented false testimony when Bockai testified about the daily sales figures of money orders, amounts that were at odds with his pre-trial statement.

Prior to Robinson’s trial, his attorneys had asked prosecutors for any documents related to information Robinson said he had given to Lisa Pryor, a DEA agent, about suspicious activities by his patients. Prosecutors said they asked the DEA to conduct a records search, and the agency said it could not find any written reports by Pryor on this matter.

A prosecutor said he would contact Pryor directly to be sure. He emailed her on July 5, 2017, and then spoke with her by telephone that night. Pryor said she had talked with Robinson before his arrest but had not taken any notes or generated a report. Pryor said she did not document the conversation because she believed Robinson’s complaint was not genuine but rather part of a fishing expedition to find out whether the DEA was investigating his practice.

Robinson’s attorneys continued to press the issue after his conviction, and Judge Kollar-Kottelly asked the prosecutors on February 15, 2018, to again contact Pryor. A prosecutor contacted Pryor that day. Again, she said she had talked with Robinson but the conversations did not generate any reports. But Pryor added that an agent she supervised was present during those discussions, and he might have created a report.

Prosecutors contacted that agent. He didn’t remember writing any reports but said he would look for any documents. He found two reports in a DEA file. Both reports were from January 2011 and had been written by Pryor, who told prosecutors she did not remember writing them.

The first report documented a telephone call on January 11 between Pryor and Robinson, in which Robinson said he had seen a spike in patients from southern Maryland and was concerned about two patients using fraudulent prescriptions. He said he had reached out to the sheriff’s office in St. Mary’s County for assistance.

The second report documented a telephone call two weeks later. According to Pryor’s report, Robinson repeated his concerns about fraudulent prescriptions. “Mr. Robinson stated that he lost approximately eighty patients from the Southern Maryland area, and he believes that they are pill seekers, because they stopped showing up for therapy,” the report said. “He explained that he contacted St. Mary County’s police department, but he felt he did not receive any results regarding his case.”

This undisclosed evidence was included in a supplemental motion for a new trial filed December 31, 2018.

On September 17, 2020, Judge Kollar-Kottelly denied Robinson’s motions for a new trial. She rejected his arguments that Romanoff’s testimony was flawed, that the testimony of the pharmacists created a prejudicial inference, and that the problems with Bockai’s testimony and related disclosure issues harmed his right to a fair trial.

Judge Kollar-Kottelly said that although the government had failed to disclose the Pryor reports, which were exculpatory evidence, a new trial wasn’t warranted. She said this evidence was cumulative and immaterial to his defense. “Even absent the Pryor reports, Defendant Robinson was able to introduce evidence at trial that he reported substance abusers to the authorities,” the ruling said.

On June 4, 2021, Judge Kollar-Kottelly sentenced Robinson to 11 years and three months in prison.

Robinson appealed to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

On June 2, 2023, a three-judge panel of the appellate court reversed Judge Kollar-Kottelly and ordered a new trial based on the government’s failure to disclose material, exculpatory evidence.

“The Pryor Reports show that Robinson proactively contacted two groups of law enforcement, local Southern Maryland police and the DEA, about pill-seeking behavior, which included the passing of fraudulent prescriptions in his name,” said the ruling, written by Judge David Sentelle. “They show that he audited his files to ferret out the pill-seekers. And most importantly, they may have raised a reasonable doubt in the mind of one or more jurors as to one or more charges that Robinson was illegally providing prescriptions to pill-seekers because he was in fact calling such behavior to the attention of authorities.”

Despite granting Robinson a new trial, the court said the government had presented sufficient evidence to convict him.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office moved to dismiss the case on November 1, 2023. It said that the alleged conduct in this case was more than 10 years old and that witnesses and records were not readily available. It also said that Robinson had agreed to waive any rights related to potential litigation about his conviction and any rights to the property and money he forfeited.

Judge Kollar-Kottery granted the dismissal on November 3, 2023.

– Ken Otterbourg

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Posting Date: 4/17/2024
Last Updated: 4/17/2024
Most Serious Crime:Fraud
Additional Convictions:Other Nonviolent Felony
Reported Crime Date:2013
Sentence:11 years and 3 months
Age at the date of reported crime:41
Contributing Factors:False or Misleading Forensic Evidence, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No