An oral surgeon with Greenwood ties who participated in a compounding pharmacy scheme that federal prosecutors say bilked insurers out of more than $400 million has had his sentencing delayed for the third time.
According to a court filing, the attorney for Dr. Brantley Nichols is trying to negotiate a sentence for his client that does not include prison time.
Although the presentencing investigation report by prosecutors is not publicly disclosed, a motion filed in September asking for the sentencing delay indicates that prosecutors are recommending prison time for Nichols, who pleaded guilty in July 2018 to participating in the massive health care fraud.
In the motion requesting the latest sentencing delay, Alfred B. Jernigan Jr., an attorney in Pearl, wrote that “a sentence requiring incarceration would have a devastating effect on Dr. Nichols. He would lose his ability to maintain malpractice insurance, he would lose his placement on the National Practitioner Database, he would lose his state license (all of which he has now), and his chance of resuming some sort of practice in the future would be greatly diminished.”
Jernigan also argues that Nichols, who continues to practice one day a week at North Sunflower Medical Center in Ruleville, is providing a valuable service in an underserved part of Mississippi.
“Nichols is the only oral surgeon available year-round within a 200-mile radius of the Delta that is an ‘in-network provider’ with the major insurance providers, including Medicaid, which represents most of the patient population,” the attorney wrote.
Nichols, 43, is one of 13 people who have pleaded guilty or were convicted in a scheme to defraud government and private insurers by getting them to pay for expensive specially compounded medications — pain creams and vitamin pills — that were medically unnecessary. In some cases, the medications were prescribed to patients without their knowledge.
Prosecutors say Nichols was prescribing high-dollar creams handmade by a Hattiesburg pharmacy without examining patients, presigning prescription forms from October 2014 to January 2017. The reimbursement for the prescriptions authorized by Nichols amounted to approximately $696,000, according to prosecutors.
Only five of the 13 convicted defendants have been sentenced so far, drawing prison time of 16 months to 10 years.
Nichols faces up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine on the one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud to which he pleaded guilty. Prosecutors have also asked that Nichols be ordered to forfeit more than $160,000.
His new sentencing date is set for Feb. 11.
He had previously been scheduled to be sentenced in January, then July, then most recently Oct. 31.
A standout athlete at Pillow Academy in the early 1990s, Nichols was primarily practicing in Hattiesburg at the time that the U.S. Department of Justice began investigating him.
He has since relocated to Oxford. A message seeking comment from him was not returned on Thursday.
The Mississippi State Board of Dental Examiners had suspended Nichols’ license to practice for two months — from Dec. 7, 2018, to Feb. 7, 2019 — as a result of his guilty plea in the fraud case.
Nichols, whose license went through a routine two-year renewal at the end of September, would probably have to take inactive status if he draws a prison sentence, said Danielle Clark, a dental licensing representative with the state board.
Jernigan also said in his successful request for a sentencing delay that Nichols “is involved in two pending civil cases and is preparing to proceed in three others.”
In one of those pending cases, filed in January 2016 in Forrest County, Nichols is suing his former Hattiesburg dental partner for firing him during the federal investigation. The lawsuit names Dr. Bennett York and the business they co-owned, Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery Clinic of South Mississippi, P.A. as defendants. At the time of the lawsuit, Nichols was a 25% shareholder in the corporation, and York owned the remaining 75%.
•Contact Tim Kalich at 581-7243 or firstname.lastname@example.org.