Amerisource Medical under investigation by police in two states

Ultrasound-equipment vendor accused of cheating customers

August 3, 2011 (published)
By David DeKok

Amerisource Medical LLC, a medical-equipment vendor suspected of cheating veterinarians and physicians, has a hazy organizational structure. Two of its listed addresses lead to UPS Stores, such as this one at 8775 Centre Park Dr. Suite 165 in Columbia, Md. Photo by David DeKok.

A Maryland-based vendor of ultrasound equipment is being investigated by police in two states for allegedly accepting payment from veterinarians and other medical professionals and then failing to deliver equipment for which it typically charged $5,000 to $10,000.   

In one alleged instance, Amerisource Medical LLC delivered equipment after a protracted delay, but the equipment proved to be inoperable.   

Police in Howard County, Md., and Waukesha, Wis., say they have opened criminal investigations into the business conduct of Amerisource Medical LLC of Columbia, Md., and its representative, Patrick A. Jackson. Detective Steve Livermore in Waukesha said a complaint from a business in his jurisdiction prompted the investigation. He credited the Veterinary Information Network (VIN), a professional membership organization, for helping to identify other potential victims of the alleged scams. VIN's media arm, the VIN News Service, reported on Amerisource in November after a veterinarian described his unhappy experience with the company on a VIN online message board.

Elizabeth Schroen, a spokeswoman for the Howard County Police Department in Columbia, Md., declined to elaborate on what drew her agency's attention to Amerisource. She said: "We are investigating a number of claims and cases involving that company." Schroen urged anyone who had dealings with the company or otherwise relevant information to contact Detective Christine Adams at (410) 313-4775. 

No charges have been filed in connection with either investigation.

Jackson told the VIN News Service in a brief exchange by telephone today that he left Amerisource "many months" ago. "I no longer work with the company," he stated. He declined to provide a name and contact information for anyone else at the company. Telephone numbers for Amerisource listed online by the Better Business Bureau (BBB) of Greater Maryland, and are disconnected.

The exact nature and whereabouts of Amerisource are unclear. The company does not appear to have a website. Several Internet directories give Amerisource's address as 8775 Centre Park Dr. Suite 165, Columbia, Md. The address leads to a UPS Store in a strip mall. Like other private mail services, The UPS Store rents out mail boxes that it touts as coming with "a real street address."

Amerisource’s 2009 charter from the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation gives an address of 6030 Marshalee Dr., Suite 702, Elkridge, Md.; that, too, is a UPS Store location.

The BBB lists the company as having 10 employees. A resume of Jackson's posted on the business network site shows that his affiliation with Amerisource began in October 1999. His title is listed as vice president and director of sales, purchasing and shipping. His responsibilities are described as including oversight of sales of ultrasound, EKG, anesthesiology and patient monitoring equipment worth $5 million in annual revenues.

The VIN News Service initially reported troubles by a veterinarian with Amerisource last November when Dr. Jeffrey LaHuis described a negative experience he had trying to get delivery of a $5,000 used Acuson 128XP ultrasound machine from the company. Jackson told the VIN News Service at the time that the weight of the shipment — some 465 pounds — and LaHuis’s remote location on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula were the reasons for the delivery delays. The ultrasound unit finally did arrive after about two months but the equipment did not operate correctly, LaHuis said. 

"Pat Jackson made a few half-hearted attempts to fix it, but it was primarily for show," LaHuis wrote in a recent e-mail to the VIN News Service. "I could probably get someone to come in, but the cost would be prohibitive. Estimated around $3,000 to $4,000. I did get an offer from Pat in March of this year to refund part of the purchase price to compensate for the defect in the machine. However, the refund never arrived (after four months)."   

In his conversation with the VIN News Service today, Jackson reiterated that LaHuis's remote location was to blame for the slow delivery and subsequent difficulty in sending a technician out to make repairs. "We made a mistake in not finding out where this person was located," Jackson said, referring to LaHuis. Ultimately, Jackson said, "He got his machine. ...Yes, the machine got a little shook up and didn't work properly. We sent someone to fix it."

Jackson declined to discuss other complaints against the company.

For his part, LaHuis filed a complaint about Amerisource with the BBB in Greater Maryland, which currently gives the company an "F" rating. The BBB reports 11 complaints against the company in the past three years. Six of the complaints pertain to delivery issues.   

LaHuis said he has not pursued further action against Amerisource because of the time it would take away from his practice.   

Coincidentally, a veterinary colleague in LaHuis's Army Reserve unit, Dr. Calvin Washington, also became entangled with Amerisource at about the same time. Washington, who operates the East Columbus Veterinary Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, said he became interested in Amerisource’s ultrasound machines when an unsolicited fax arrived one day at his practice.   

Washington placed an order for a Chinese-made Palm Vet 9618, a small, portable ultrasound scanner a fraction of the size of the Acuson 128XP unit ordered by LaHuis. Washington soon converted the purchase to a lease. Jackson, he said, recommended a lease finance company, Benchmark Financial Groups, LLC, of Aliso Viejo, Calif. By mid-October, Washington had arranged the lease through Benchmark and was waiting for delivery of the ultrasound machine. It never came. Jackson’s litany of excuses seemed inexhaustible, he said.   

Washington recalled that the first time he contacted Jackson, he was told that "deliveries were running slow" but the unit should arrive shortly. He phoned again a week later and was told the mail was slow due to the impending Thanksgiving holiday. After the holiday, Washington called again and this time was told that Jackson was expecting a big shipment, but it was held up in customs. Again, Washington was told to expect delivery in a few days.   

"A few days came and went," Washington recounted in an interview with the VIN News Service. "Middle of December, kind of the same deal, and the leasing company was calling me asking if I got my machine. I told them no. And of course, I was kind of getting concerned. I said, 'You haven’t paid him yet, have you?' 'No, we only gave him half the money. He’s supposed to get the other half when the equipment is delivered.' So Christmas came and went. At the end of December, I called him again. He said the machine was there, but they didn’t send the probe. He said he would take a probe off one of the other machines. Probably (it would take) three days."   

The equipment never arrived. The next time Washington called Jackson, there was no answer. He got the impression that Jackson was a one-man show. "Every time I talked to him, he wasn’t hostile, he was cordial and seemed sincere. But after awhile, it was clear he wasn’t," he said. 

Washington got back his down payment because he paid it with a credit card. He said he is out his initial lease fee of around $600, plus some $2,600 in lease payments — payments he said his contract obligates him to make even though the machine has not been delivered. Benchmark Financial Groups has since sold his lease to MD Capital Partners in Newport Beach, Calif.   

Washington tried filing a complaint about Jackson and Amerisource with the police in Howard County, Md., but initially was told there was nothing they could do. He was urged to contact the police in Columbus, Ohio, and did. His hometown police came out and talked with him but eventually told him to contact the FBI. The FBI also punted, Washington said. Then he heard from LaHuis that Detective Livermore in Waukesha, Wis., was on the case. He talked to Livermore, who urged him to call Detective Adams in Howard County, Md.   

This time, Washington got a better reception and is waiting to hear what will happen.   

Veterinarians aren't the only medical professionals reporting unsatisfactory business dealings with Amerisource and Jackson. Yale Shulman, MD, a urologist from Jersey City, N.J., had an experience similar to that of LaHuis and Washington. In January, he arranged to purchase a used Phillips ultrasound unit for his medical practice. Shulman said a unit that normally sold for $30,000 was offered by Jackson for $13,250.    

"I sent a check of $8,250 as a down payment," Shulman told the VIN News Service, adding that Jackson cashed it the same day it arrived. "I don’t know what I was thinking. Possibly, he never had the machine for sale. He made all sorts of excuses: His back was out, the car broke down, the machine was in storage at the airport — one lie after the next."   

Shulman said he has not heard from Jackson since February. "The ultrasound machine has not arrived," Shulman said. "It is now six months since I sent my check."

Shulman has spoken to police investigators in Wisconsin and Maryland, and hopes some action will follow.   

Livermore, the detective in Wisconsin, said the disposition of his agency's investigation hinges on the actions of the Howard County, Md., police. "That's home territory for Mr. Jackson," Livermore said, referring to Howard County. Pursuing the case out of Wisconsin, while not impossible, would be more complicated because it would require extradition, Livermore said.

Howard County police spokeswoman Schroen could not say what, if any, action her agency would take on the various complaints against Amerisource.

Edie Lau contributed to this report.

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