ROBESON COUNTY, N.C. (WBTW) — A pharmacy owner and a technician at a Robeson County pharmacy were sentenced Thursday for health care fraud, according to a news release from the DOJ.

James Craig Bell, 63, was sentenced to 24 months in prison for conspiracy to commit health care fraud in connection with a scheme through his pharmacy that operated under the name “Townsend’s Pharmacy,” according to the release. Bell previously pled guilty in October 2022.

Melisha Oxendine West, 51, was sentenced last month following her guilty plea to 24 months in prison followed by three years of supervised release in connection with the same scheme, the DOJ said. She was Bell’s co-defendant and former employee.

The DOJ said that beginning as early as 2006 through July 2017, Bell, acting through Townsend’s Pharmacy, billed Medicare, Medicaid and various private health plans for prescription drugs that were never actually dispensed by the pharmacy.

Bell had trained West and his other employees on how to bill health care benefit plans for drugs that were not authorized or dispensed, according to the DOJ. He also trained employees to falsely reauthorize a previously existing prescription from a licensed medical professional, as well as how to falsely bill health care benefit programs as though a drug had been dispensed.

West then began independently running the pharmacy’s operations while Bell continued to knowingly profit from the fraudulent billing practices, the DOJ said. The scheme in total cost Medicare and North Carolina Medicaid more than $4 million in fraudulent billings by conservative estimates.

“People who steal taxpayer-funded programs to provide health care to the needy will be investigated and prosecuted,” said US Attorney Michael Easley in the release. “For over a decade, Bell and his pharmacy fraudulently billed Medicare and Medicaid over $4 million for medicine he never actually gave to patients. That money should have gone to getting vital medications to those in need.”

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Caleb is a digital producer at News13. Caleb joined the team in January 2023 after graduating from Liberty University. He is from Northern Virginia. Follow Caleb on Twitter and read more of his work here.