Doctor fined for importing unapproved cancer medicine

EAST LIVERPOOL – A local doctor was among seven Ohio oncologists who will have to pay almost $2.6 million in fines and restitution after pleading guilty to importing unapproved cancer drugs into the country.

Ranjan Bhandari, 56, who had offices in Calcutta, has been ordered by a federal judge to pay $1.14 million in fines and civil settlement costs after being sentenced to probation after admitting to causing the shipment of drugs not approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration into the country.

According to a release from the U.S. Attorneys Office, Northern District of Ohio, the doctors were accused of obtaining Zometa, Kutril, Taxotere, Gemzar and Eloxatin, as well as other drugs used to treat cancer, from outside this country, where they were not approved by the FDA.

Steven M. Dettelbach, U.S. District Attorney, said, “Our office is committed to working with our partners to make sure patients are getting medicine that has been properly inspected.”

Bhandari’s attorney, Michael Hennenberg, was quoted in other published reports as saying his client was initially ordered to serve three months probation which was terminated after the doctor paid a $5,000 criminal fine that was part of the $1.14 million.

Hennenberg was also quoted as saying Bhandari was the only full-time oncologist in East Liverpool, providing an essential service to an “impoverished area” where cancer rates are higher than other areas of Ohio and the nation.

He also pointed out that Bhandari has never been sued for malpractice nor been disciplined by the state Medical Board of Ohio in his 23 years of practice.

The report noted that Bhandari voluntarily stopped purchasing the cancer drugs from Canada more than two years before this investigation, and his attorney said the doctor cooperated fully with investigators.

Nevertheless, the doctors broke the law, and their “fraudulent conduct” was motivated by profit, Dettelbach was quoted as saying, adding that, by buying the drugs less expensively yet still billing for the full amount of an approved drug, they made a considerable amount of money without passing on the savings to patients or taxpayers.

Antoinette V. Henry, special agent in charge, FDA Office of Criminal Investigations, said, “FDA’s regulatory standards are designed to ensure the safety and quality of the medical devices and drugs distributed to American consumers. We will continue to work to investigate all persons, including medical professionals, who disregard regulatory requirements and jeopardize the public health by participating in the distribution of misbranded products.”

A report on Bhandari’s current license status was not available on the state medical board’s website.

Other physicians fined as a result of the investigation include: Timmappa Bidari, 68, Parma ($158,418); David Fishman, 62, Euclid ($150,000); Su-Chiao Kuo, 60, Brunswick ($179,840); Marwan Massouh, 54, Westlake ($609.150); Poornanand Palaparty, 62, Cleveland ($128,160); and Hassan Tahsildar, 55, Euclid ($179,316).