13 October 2023

Pharmacist who stole almost $300,000 through false claims wins appeal

| Albert McKnight
Felix Yue-Sing Chan was originally sentenced by the Queanbeyan District Court in November 2022.

Felix Yue-Sing Chan was originally sentenced by the Queanbeyan District Court in November 2022. Photo: Albert McKnight.

A registered pharmacist who owned three pharmacies in or around Canberra when he illegally obtained almost $300,000 has won his appeal, allowing him to serve his jail sentence in the community.

Felix Yue-Sing Chan made 105 false claims to the Federal Government’s Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS), obtaining a total of $288,595.

The owner of Ginninderra Pharmacy in the ACT as well as Priceline Pharmacy in Queanbeyan and Bungendore in NSW, he made the claims for prescriptions he had not dispensed between 2018 and 2020.

He falsely stated that various medical practitioners had supplied 1070 pharmaceuticals to patients when they had not and used the names of real doctors and patients.

An investigation began in 2020.

“It emerged that doctors whose unique prescriber details had been used by [Chan] to make a claim under the PBS had not in fact written scripts for some of the medication that [Chan] said he had dispensed,” NSW Supreme Court Justice Natalie Adams said.

He was interviewed and made admissions, telling investigators that financial difficulties and stresses related to his pharmacies were the main reasons he “took matters into his own hands”.

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He said the 2019-2020 Black Summer bushfires nearly threatened his pharmacy in Bungendore, both Ginninderra and Queanbeyan pharmacies were suffering financially before the COVID-19 pandemic and increased competition from large competitors around Ginninderra had caused financial suffering.

Also, he said the Queanbeyan pharmacy had declined in market value to the tune of $1 million whereby NAB (his bankers) threatened to recall the business loan.

Despite this, he accepted “[t]here is absolutely no excuse for any wrongdoing, no matter what circumstances are and how tough things are”.

“It was against the law, it breaks the trust of a lot of people, such as taxpayers and the GPs I named. It was dishonest. I’ve let my family down,” Chan told a psychologist.

He repaid the entire $288,000 in 2021.

He pleaded guilty to three counts of unlawfully obtaining a pharmaceutical benefit payment and in November 2022 was sentenced in the Queanbeyan District Court to two years’ jail, to be released in January 2024 after he served one year and two months.

Chan appealed to the NSW Court of Criminal Appeal, arguing that sentencing Judge Tanya Bright had made errors as well as that his sentence was manifestly excessive.

His lawyers argued that the protection of the community and promotion of his rehabilitation would have been better facilitated by the imposition of an intensive corrections order (ICO).

In late August, the higher court’s three justices, including Justice Adams, announced Judge Bright had erred when considering the factors involved in whether an ICO should be imposed.

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His appeal was upheld on this ground and he was resentenced to eight months and 17 days’ jail, to be served via an ICO.

He had already spent more than nine months in custody after being locked up in November 2022. Justice Adams took this into account when determining the length of his ICO.

Justice Adams said he posed a very low risk to community safety and his risk of reoffending would be better met on an ICO than in custody.

“We are very pleased with the outcome of the appeal,” Chan’s lawyer, Peter Woodhouse of Aulich, said.

“The sentence imposed by the Court of Criminal Appeal is the sentence that should have been imposed in the first instance.”

Chan was born in Hong Kong, became a fully registered pharmacist in 2004 and managed pharmacies in Lismore and Sydney until 2009 when he bought his own in the ACT.

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