Burned at Both Ends

A background in hauling pot gives you the skills and chutzpah to become a Medicaid mogul

Ultimately, though, the two men held positions on opposite sides of the law. The Boyds were drug dealers. "I couldn't change that," Nagurny says. His department recommended that John Darrell be held on a $50 million bond.

Two months later, Tracy was cornered at a home in North Miami Beach. He surrendered peacefully to Nagurny. A story from the Hollywood Sun-Tattler from June 4, 1983, read: "It's U.S. marshals 2, Boyd brothers 0."

John Darrell Boyd and the facial hair that made him famous, in the 1970s (previous photo) and more recently
Courtesy of john darrell boyd
John Darrell Boyd and the facial hair that made him famous, in the 1970s (previous photo) and more recently

The brothers each pleaded guilty and served about five years in prison. Upon release, Tracy ran a vegetarian restaurant in Miami and now spends much of his time in Colorado. John Darrell and wife eventually divorced; his son grew up and had his own troubles with the law, mostly on drug-related charges. The elder Boyd stayed in Florida, where he met a fellow named Jose I. Lopez, who persuaded Boyd to join him in the lucrative medical supply business.

"He was a slimeball, but he was my friend," Boyd says now. "I needed him, and he needed me."

Together, the partners ran several companies that catered to patients with diabetes — a dialysis clinic called National Infusion, a pharmacy, also called National Infusion, and a medical equipment company called Total Patient Supply. All of their payments came from Medicaid, the government-run insurance system for the poor and disabled.

Medicaid always paid well and on time. "If you get a Medicaid provider number, you're set for the rest of your life," Boyd says. "We were living the American dream." He won't specify how much money he made, "but it was ridiculous. It's obscene." Because diabetes patients can be on multiple medications, Boyd says, "They need everything." That made his business "a cash cow."

Both Lopez and Boyd proudly maintain that their companies ran above the board without any problems for about 12 years. Then, their stories diverge.

Boyd claims he was on site most days. "I took care of problems. I fought [Medicaid] anytime there was a war to be fought. Jose took care of the medical and business end."

Lopez, in an interview, disagrees. "Dude, you controlled all the money," he says, as if Boyd were sitting across the table.

When the dialysis clinic shut down due to changing Medicaid regulations, the men shifted to pharmacies.

In 2002, Lopez bought a pharmacy called Safety Drugs with a $77,000 loan from Boyd. Boyd could not be on the books of Safety Drugs; Medicare disallowed felons from participating as providers.

But shortly after Lopez took over, the pharmacy's old owner, Shabbir Motorwala, noticed that Lopez had charged Medicaid $300,000 in just two weeks. That seemed highly unusual — Motorwala says that for years, he did only about $1,000 per week in business to Medicaid patients. Motorwala alerted Medicaid to the suspicious billing, and the pharmacy was shut down. Boyd and Lopez were hit with criminal charges.

Around the same time that Safety Drugs was operating, Boyd helped his girlfriend of 20 years, a former nurse named Donna Gootgeld, open King's Point Community Pharmacy in Delray Beach. Lopez assisted the couple by handling their Medicaid billing.

Boyd lovingly describes Gootgeld as "one of the prettiest girls in South Florida." He keeps pictures of her in his house, but a sign taped to his microwave hints at their eventual discord: It reads, "Better to have loved and lost than to live with psycho the rest of your life."

Boyd claims that Lopez took the Medicaid numbers of patients from their other businesses and billed Medicaid through King's Point Pharmacy — even though those particular patients had never set foot in King's Point.

"Jose was going to run the money through, pay his debt off, and then run it as a legit pharmacy after he scammed the government," Boyd claims. Boyd knew how easy it was to do. "Once you're in the system, you put [claims] in on Monday, and the following Thursday, the money comes in. Direct deposit! There's very little oversight. The government is spending millions, billions, and zillions of dollars, and they don't check up on anybody!"

Whatever the specifics, in July 2002, Gootgeld and Lopez were each charged with organized fraud, grand theft, and Medicaid provider fraud. According to the Attorney General's Office, the two submitted claims for prescriptions written by a doctor who, it turned out, had been dead for two years. Furthermore, the AG alleged, "the drugs presumably dispensed were never ordered or stocked by the pharmacy," and most of the phony prescriptions were for organ transplant drugs — but the patients for whom the drugs were allegedly prescribed never had organ transplants.

Gootgeld and Lopez each pleaded guilty in exchange for probation and restitution.

Lopez is ashamed of what he did. "I lived my whole life by the book in a field that was ridiculously tempting and ridiculously easy to commit fraud, and I didn't do it," he says now. "Then — bad judgment — I did it for eight months. I tormented myself, but I did it anyway. Now I've got a label on me. I'm a convicted felon."

Boyd maintains he never knew of any wrongdoing — "To this day, you could torture me on national television" — until he saw that a check had come in for $325,000 from Medicaid. He was pissed — especially, he says, because Lopez didn't give him a dime of it toward that outstanding $77,000 loan.

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