Federal prosecutors have accused 10 people of orchestrating a $20 million scheme to “get rich” by buying and selling black-market H.I.V. medications that in some cases had been purchased from low-income patients who risked their lives by selling it.
Some of those accused in the case then used the proceeds to buy luxury cars, waterfront real estate in New York City, designer clothes, jewelry and gold, according to a statement released Friday by Damian Williams, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.
According to a 24-page indictment filed in Federal District Court in Manhattan, the scheme also involved bribing patients to use specific local pharmacies that were involved in the plot and defrauding Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance companies of millions of dollars since 2017.
Mr. Williams said those accused in the case had been “preying on vulnerable members of society.” Several of the defendants are facing decades in prison on various charges, including conspiracy to commit wire fraud and health care fraud and money laundering.
Three years ago, federal prosecutors said, Christy Corvalan, a Bronx pharmacy owner, sent a photo of black-market H.I.V. medication to the man who had sold it to her.
“I was going to keep it, but I really can’t,” she wrote to the man, Boris Aminov, in a WhatsApp message. She added, “I already have enough bad ones to work with.”
Mr. Aminov had already sold her too many “degraded” bottles of H.I.V. medication that she had altered to look more legitimate so she could resell them for a profit, Ms. Corvalan explained in her message, prosecutors said. This specific bottle, she told Mr. Aminov, was of especially poor quality.
The way prescription drugs are manufactured, handled and sold is carefully regulated in the United States, and prosecutors said those who purchase medications from black-market dealers can’t be sure those drugs have been held to the same standards.
Mr. Aminov, Ms. Corvalan and three people who worked at Ms. Corvalan’s pharmacies were charged in connection with the scheme in March, but on Friday prosecutors added new charges and charged six additional people.
Mr. Aminov, who lives in Brooklyn, and another man acquired the black-market H.I.V. medications and sold the drugs to pharmacies owned by Ms. Corvalan and at least two pharmacies owned by people in Queens at prices well below market value, according to the indictment. From there, the “potentially unsafe medication” was resold to pharmacies across the country or dispensed to patients, prosecutors said.
Even though the drugs were bought cheaply and illegally, prosecutors said, Ms. Corvalan’s pharmacies consistently billed insurance companies for the full value of the medication and made about $3,000 in profit on each monthly prescription they filled.
Ms. Corvalan and some of her employees also bribed patients to use her pharmacies in order to submit fraudulent bills for those prescriptions, according to the indictment, and encouraged predominantly low-income patients to forgo their prescribed H.I.V. treatment by offering to buy their monthly medications for a few hundred dollars.
One patient questioned a defendant, Antonio Payano, about the price Mr. Payano was offering to pay for a bottle of the H.I.V. medication Biktarvy, according to prosecutors.
In a text message, the patient wrote, “why am I risking my life for such little $.”
Medication bought back from individuals with H.I.V. was dispensed to other patients while Ms. Corvalan and others pocketed the money Medicaid and Medicare paid to fill the prescriptions, according to the indictment.
Lawyers representing Mr. Aminov, Ms. Corvalan and Mr. Payano did not immediately respond to requests for comment.