Wanted Cambria County physician nabbed in Panama

| Saturday, May 17, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

A Cambria County physician who fled the country when he was indicted on charges of health care fraud was arrested this week in Panama, according to federal court records.

Dr. William R. Acosta, a native of the Dominican Republic, originally agreed to plead guilty to health care fraud and tax charges, according to an indictment unsealed on Friday in U.S. District Court in Johnstown.

On April 3, 2006, Acosta's attorney notified the U.S. Attorney's Office that his client was willing to plead guilty. But Acosta had departed from Florida for the Dominican Republic the previous day, according to federal records.

The Department of Human Services began investigating the Johnstown neurologist in 2001 after receiving reports that Acosta was prescribing an unusually high number of narcotics to patients without conducting required physical examinations.

Acosta studied medicine in the Dominican Republic and has family there, according to court records. He was arrested on Thursday in Panama, according to a motion to unseal the indictment.

Detective Kevin Price of the Cambria County Drug Task Force singled out Acosta in testimony last year as one of the reasons behind drug addictions in the county, which many times begin with abuse of prescription medications.

Last week, Attorney General Kathleen Kane said the heroin problem in Cambria County “was out of control,” and she was dispatching undercover agents from other regions to aid local police. Law enforcement authorities have linked the use of painkillers to the increase in heroin addiction and drug overdose deaths in Pennsylvania.

An undercover agent began a series of appointments with Acosta by complaining of migraine headaches, but medical records of those visits were falsified, federal investigators allege.

“A review of billings indicated ... that Dr. Acosta was billing for a high level of service when patients described a lower-level service,” read an affidavit by Agent Connie Murray of the Office of the Inspector General.

Murray was diagnosed with tension headaches. Acosta claimed she underwent detailed exams, but she did not, the affidavit alleges.

In 2003, Murray wore a hidden recording device during an examination. Acosta's records reflect he asked Murray whether she had a drug problem before issuing a prescription, but Acosta never asked the question on the tape recording, investigators allege.

The U.S. Attorney's Office last week indicted Johnstown physician Glenn Davis, 61, who is accused of fraudulently prescribing large amounts of prescription painkillers.

Earlier this month, a dozen people in Cambria and Somerset counties suffered nonfatal overdoses that were linked to a brand of heroin known as “Seven of Hearts” and laced with drugs used to treat malaria and epilepsy, investigators said.

Aaron Wade Walters, 24, of Johnstown was arrested on drug charges when two brothers were found unconscious after injecting the “Seven of Hearts” heroin, police said.

Richard Gazarik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6292 or rgazarik@tribweb.com

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