Detroit — A former heavyweight mixed martial artist and bare-knuckle brawler pleaded guilty Thursday for his role in a $112 million health-care fraud case involving an alligator-wrestling doctor.
Josh Burns, 40, of Dexter, his elaborate tattoos and bulging muscles covered by a purple dress shirt, quietly answered "yes, ma'am" when questioned by Chief U.S. District Judge Denise Page Hood about his role in one of the largest health care fraud schemes in U.S. history.
Burns admitted funneling kickbacks and bribes to Dr. Francisco Patino in return for referring urine samples for drug tests that cost Medicare more than $2.6 million.
The former fighter faces up to 46 months in prison when sentenced April 9 in federal court in Detroit. He also has agreed to pay $144,000 restitution to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Burns also has agreed to cooperate with the government, which is prosecuting Patino, 63, of Woodhaven. Patino was indicted in June and accused of orchestrating the conspiracy.
Prosecutors portrayed Patino as a conniving crook with lies as big as his biceps, an alligator-wrestling, steroid-buying, frequently shirtless fraudster who spent ill-gotten gains on mixed martial arts fighters and a vanity diet program.
Patino is a lying bully who hid millions of dollars in offshore bank accounts while threatening to "break the legs" of one associate and entrapping another with exotic dancers, prosecutors said.
He is being held without bond in a federal prison in Milan while awaiting trial in March.
Burns admitted conspiring with Patino and others to solicit kickbacks and bribes in exchange for ordering urine drug tests from laboratories in Colorado and Nevada.
A heavily tattooed Josh Burns, right, fought Hari Miles in this bare-knuckle match posted on YouTube in 2017. (Video credit: YouTube)
Patino disguised the nature and source of the kickbacks and bribes by ordering Burns to collect the money and pay for various expenses. Those expenses included sponsoring and endorsing mixed martial art fighters and boxers, according to the plea deal.
The Patino probe is linked to a $200 million health care fraud case involving businessman Mashiyat Rashid, who prosecutors say spent his share of the scheme on a $7 million Franklin mansion, courtside NBA tickets, a Lamborghini, Hermes clothes and rare watches.
Rashid, 38, is expected to plead guilty to unspecified charges Monday in federal court.
During the Rashid investigation, federal agents seized more than $21 million worth of cash and real estate and signaled Rashid's mansion should be forfeited to the government.
Rashid was listed as resident agent of Global Quality on a state business filing in 2011, according to the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs.
The same filing also lists Patino as company president.
Federal prosecutors say Patino controlled and operated the company.
Global Quality was part of a web of companies Patino used in a scheme that defrauded Medicare by distributing opioids and administering painful and experimental back injections, the government alleges.
"He required vulnerable patients to submit to these injections even if they didn’t need them or didn't want them," Justice Department trial attorney Jacob Foster said during a recent court hearing. "But he told them they had to have them if they wanted to obtain pain medication."
The injections and prescriptions were lucrative and frequent, Foster said.
While federal investigators have frozen Patino's bank accounts, millions of dollars remain missing, the prosecutor said.
"There are millions of dollars unaccounted for, including over $2,190,562.84 in cash that has been withdrawn from financial institutions," Foster said.
From 2016 to 2017, Patino wrote prescriptions for more than 2.2 million pills, including fentanyl, oxycodone and oxymorphone. Some of the medically unnecessary drugs ended up being resold on the street, according to the indictment.
During that period, Patino was the state's top prescriber of oxycodone 30 mg, the powerful opioid painkiller, prosecutors said.
There is a simple explanation, Patino's lawyer Brian Lennon said.
Patino’s prescription pads were stolen and people who were not his patients received prescriptions by someone using his U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration number, Lennon said.
"This indictment is full of misstatements," he said during a recent court hearing.