SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – Liz Ann Banchs, the owner and president of Farmacia Gabriela, Inc. was charged and pleaded guilty on September 24, 2021 to participating in a felony conspiracy to convert government property and to commit health care fraud in connection with the illegal vaccination of minors between the ages of 7 to 11 with the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. The announcement was made by W. Stephen Muldrow, United States Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico and Scott Lampert, Special Agent in Charge for the United States Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG), New York Regional Office.
From approximately May 28, 2021 through June 22, 2021, Liz Ann Banchs and employees of Farmacia Gabriela, Inc.’s pharmacy in Juana Díaz, Puerto Rico, conspired to knowingly and willfully administer the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to children 11 years old or younger and to submit corresponding Medicaid claims to MC-21. A total of twenty-four children aged 7-11 were administered the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, at full dosage, without lawful authority as a part of the conspiracy.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) COVID-19 Vaccination Program required eligible pharmacies, like Farmacia Gabriela, Inc., to comply with all requirements established by the United States Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”), including the Emergency Use Authorization “EUA” which permitted the administration of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to children aged 12 and older. Importantly, the EUA has not approved the administration of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to children 11 years old and younger. As a result, the administration of the vaccine to children aged 7-11 represents an unauthorized and unlawful administration of the vaccine. The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine batches at issue were the property of the United States government and were illegally converted without authority from the United States. Similarly, Farmacia Gabriela, Inc. was not permitted to submit claims to MC-21, the Pharmacy Benefit Manager for Medicaid in Puerto Rico, for the unlawful and unauthorized administration of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to children aged 7-11.
Banchs’ unlawful activity was identified quickly by the Puerto Rico Department of Health and the COVID-19 vaccination program at Farmacia Gabriela, Inc. was subsequently suspended. No serious medical conditions have been identified to date as a result of the illegal vaccination program and all funds received for the corresponding Medicaid billings have been voluntarily returned to the United States. In conjunction with pleading guilty, Banchs has voluntarily agreed to be excluded as a provider for Medicare, Medicaid, and all federal health care programs for a period of five years.
“Pharmacists rank among the most trusted professionals,” said U.S. Attorney Muldrow. “This individual used her special access to illegally vaccinate children under the age of 12 years old putting their health at risk. The Department of Justice will continue to work with its law enforcement partners to ensure the public receives safe and effective vaccines.”
Special Agent in Charge Scott J. Lampert said, “HHS-OIG and our law enforcement partners are committed to helping the country get through the COVID-19 public health crisis, but the safety of our citizens comes first, especially when we are dealing with keeping children safe. There are clear guidelines set forth by our nation’s public health agencies regarding who is eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine at this time. We will not stray from our mission to protect the public and the federal health care programs that serve them.”
Banchs faces a maximum penalty of 5 years in prison, a fine of up to $250,000, and three years of supervised release.
The case was investigated by the HHS-OIG with the collaboration of the Puerto Rico Department of Health Office of Investigations, the Puerto Rico Medicaid Fraud Control Unit, the Puerto Rico Department of Justice Economic Crimes Unit, the United States Food and Drug Administration, Pfizer Global Security & Compliance Division, and the MC-21 Benefit Integrity Unit. The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Seth A. Erbe, Chief of the Financial Fraud and Public Corruption Section at the United States Attorney’s Office.
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USAO - Puerto Rico;
Department of Health and Human Services OIG