Utah Financial Advisor Sentenced To Prison For Tax Evasion, Securities Fraud And Wire Fraud

June 8, 2018

A St. George, Utah, financial advisor was sentenced to 72 months in prison on June 4th for his role in selling fraudulent tax-avoidance and investment strategies to his clients, announced Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Richard E. Zuckerman of the Justice Department’s Tax Division and U.S. Attorney John W. Huber for the District of Utah.

According to documents and information provided to the court, Henry Brock, pleaded guilty to tax evasion, securities fraud and wire fraud.  Brock founded a financial services company in 2009 and served as the president from 2009 through 2017.  As President, he marketed and sold a fraudulent tax scheme, called “IRA Exit Strategy,” to potential investors.  Brock promised investors that he could provide a way for them to avoid paying taxes on IRA withdrawals, which would otherwise be subject to Internal Revenue Service (IRS) penalties and taxes.  To implement his scheme, Brock caused his business to issue tax forms to his clients falsely representing that they were investors in his business who incurred losses, which served to offset the clients’ tax liabilities.  As a result, Brock caused clients to file fraudulent income tax returns claiming a total of approximately $3.8 million in bogus business losses and resulting in a tax loss of over $1.1 million.

During this period, Brock fraudulently raised more than $10.8 million in investments by making false representations to investors regarding the “IRA Exit Strategy,” the financial condition of his company and other matters.  On at least one occasion, Brock also transferred $196,323 of a client’s investment funds and used the money for his own personal and business expenses.

In addition to the term of imprisonment, U.S. District Court Judge Ted Stewart ordered Brock to serve three years of supervised release and to pay restitution in the amount of $12 million.

Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Zuckerman and U.S. Attorney Huber thanked special agents of IRS Criminal Investigation and the Utah Division of Securities, who conducted the investigation, and AUSA Trina Higgins and Trial Attorney Matthew Hoffman of the Tax Division, who are prosecuting this case.

Additional information about the Tax Division and its enforcement efforts may be found on the division’s website.

Mississippi Physician Sentenced to Over Three Years in Prison for Role in $3 Million Compounding Pharmacy Fraud Scheme

June 7, 2018

A Biloxi, Mississippi physician was sentenced today to 42 months in prison for his involvement in a $3 million compounding pharmacy fraud scheme.

Acting Assistant Attorney General John P. Cronan of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division; U.S. Attorney D. Michael Hurst Jr. of the Southern District of Mississippi; Special Agent in Charge Christopher Freeze of the FBI’s Jackson, Mississippi Field Division; Acting Special Agent in Charge Thomas J. Holloman III of IRS Criminal Investigation’s (IRS-CI) New Orleans Field Office and Special Agent in Charge John F. Khin of the Defense Criminal Investigative Service’s (DCIS) Southeast Field Office made the announcement.

Albert Diaz, M.D., was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Keith Starrett of the Southern District of Mississippi.  Restitution to TRICARE and other insurance companies will be determined at a later date. On March 2 after a five-day jury trial, Diaz was convicted of one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud and wire fraud, four counts of wire fraud, one count of conspiracy to distribute and dispense a controlled substance, four counts of distributing and dispensing a controlled substance, one count of conspiracy to falsify records in a federal investigation and five counts of falsification of records in a federal investigation.

According to evidence presented at trial, between 2014 and 2015, Diaz participated in a scheme to defraud TRICARE and other insurance companies by prescribing medically unnecessary compounded medications, some of which included ketamine, a controlled substance, to individuals he had not examined.  The evidence further demonstrated that, based on the prescriptions signed by Diaz, Advantage Pharmacy in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, dispensed these medically unnecessary compounded medications and sought and received reimbursement from TRICARE and other insurance companies totaling more than $3 million. The trial evidence further demonstrated that in response to a TRICARE audit, Diaz falsified patient records to make it appear as though he had examined patients before prescribing the medications.

The FBI, IRS-CI, the Defense Criminal Investigative Service, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General, the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics and other government agencies investigated the case.  Trial Attorneys Kate Payerle and Jared Hasten of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Mary Helen Wall of the Southern District of Mississippi are prosecuting the case.

The Fraud Section leads the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, which is part of a joint initiative between the Department of Justice and HHS to focus their efforts to prevent and deter fraud and enforce current anti-fraud laws around the country.  The Medicare Fraud Strike Force operates in nine locations nationwide.  Since its inception in March 2007, the Medicare Fraud Strike Force has charged over 3,500 defendants who collectively have falsely billed the Medicare program for over $12.5 billion.

Signature HealthCARE to Pay More Than $30 Million to Resolve False Claims Act Allegations Related to Rehabilitation Therapy

June 8, 2018

Signature HealthCARE, LLC (Signature), a Louisville, Kentucky based company that owns and operates approximately 115 skilled nursing facilities, including 7 in middle Tennessee, has agreed to resolve allegations that it violated the False Claims Act by knowingly submitting false claims to Medicare for rehabilitation therapy services that were not reasonable, necessary and skilled, the Department of Justice announced today.  The settlement also resolves allegations that Signature submitted forged pre-admission certifications of patient need for skilled nursing to the state of Tennessee’s Medicaid program.  Under the settlement agreements, Signature has agreed to pay more than $30 million.  As part of the resolution, the State of Tennessee will receive a portion of the overall settlement.

“Today’s settlement demonstrates our continuing efforts to protect patients and taxpayer by ensuring that the care provided to beneficiaries of government-funded healthcare programs is dictated by clinical needs, not a provider’s fiscal interests,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Chad A. Readler for the Justice Department’s Civil Division.  “Nursing home facilities provide important services to our elderly, and those facilities must uphold the trust placed in them by billing the government only for reasonable and necessary services.”

The government alleged that Signature engaged in various practices that resulted in the submission of claims for unreasonable, unnecessary, and unskilled services to Medicare patients, including: (1) presumptively placing patients in the highest therapy reimbursement level, rather than relying on individualized evaluations to determine the level of care most suitable for each patient’s clinical needs; (2) providing the minimum number of minutes required to bill at a given reimbursement level while discouraging the provision of additional therapy beyond that minimum threshold; and, (3) pressuring therapists and patients to complete the planned minutes of therapy even when patients were sick or declined to participate in therapy.

“Health care providers who engage in deceptive practices place patients at unnecessary risk and contribute to the financial distress of our federal healthcare programs,” said U.S. Attorney Cochran for the Middle District of Tennessee.  “Our dedicated teams of civil enforcement attorneys will work tirelessly with the relators who report fraud such as this and with our law enforcement partners who investigate healthcare fraud.  When we determine that companies are cheating the taxpayers, we will hold them accountable as we have in this case.”

“Our most vulnerable citizens are put at risk when healthcare providers put their financial interests above their patients’ needs and valuable federal funds are diverted from where they are surely needed,” said U. S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak for the Northern District of Georgia. “This settlement demonstrates our commitment to pursuing healthcare providers who provide unnecessary care to advance their bottom line.”

“Signature was charged with illegally boosting profits by providing excessive amounts of therapy to patients whether they needed it or not,” said Special Agent in Charge Derrick L. Jackson for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General. “The decision to provide therapy should never be based on corporate financial considerations rather than a patient’s medical needs.”

The settlement resolves allegations filed in a lawsuit by Kristi Emerson and LeeAnn Tuesca, former Signature therapy employees, in federal court in Nashville, Tennessee.  The lawsuit was filed under the qui tam, or whistleblower, provisions of the False Claims Act, which permit private individuals to sue on behalf of the government for false claims and to share in any recovery.  The Act also allows the government to intervene and take over the action, as it did in this case.  Ms. Emerson and Ms. Tuesca will receive a portion of the recovered funds.

The settlements were the result of a coordinated effort by the Civil Division of the Department of Justice, the United States Attorney’s Offices for the Middle District of Tennessee and the Northern District of Georgia, the Office of Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. Department of Defense, Office of Inspector General, the Defense Criminal Investigative Service, and the Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Inspector General.  Trial Attorneys Christelle Klovers and Denise Barnes of the Civil Division of the Department of Justice, Assistant United States Attorney Sarah K. Bogni of the Middle District of Tennessee, and Assistant United States Attorney Lena Amanti of the Northern District of Georgia represent the United States.  Assistant Attorney General Philip Bangle represents the State of Tennessee.

  The case is captioned United States ex rel. Emerson and Tuesca v. Signature HealthCARE, LLC, et al., Case No. 1:15-cv-00027 (M.D. Tenn.).  The claims resolved by the settlements are allegations only, and there has been no determination of liability.

Department of Justice and Health and Human Services Return $2.6 Billion in Taxpayer Savings From Efforts to Fight Healthcare Fraud

April 6, 2018 Departments Work to Stamp out Pill Mills and Opioid Overprescribing

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and Attorney General Jeff Sessions today released a fiscal year (FY) 2017 Health Care Fraud and Abuse Control Program report showing that for every dollar the federal government spent on healthcare related fraud and abuse investigations in the last three years, the government recovered $4. Additionally, the report shows that the departments’ FY 2017 Takedown event was the single largest healthcare fraud enforcement operation in history.

In FY 2017, the government’s healthcare fraud prevention and enforcement efforts recovered $2.6 billion in taxpayer dollars from individuals and entities attempting to defraud the federal government and Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries. Some of these fraudulent practices include:

  • Providers operating “pill mills” out of their medical offices.
  • Providers submitting false claims to Medicare for ambulance transportation services.
  • Clinics submitting false claims to Medicare and Medicaid for physical and occupational therapy.
  • Drug companies paying kickbacks to providers to prescribe their drugs, and pharmacies soliciting and receiving kickbacks from pharmaceutical companies for promoting their drugs.
  • Companies misrepresenting capabilities of their electronic health record software to customers.

“Taxpayers work hard every day to help fund government programs for our fellow Americans,” Attorney General Sessions said. “But too many trusted medical professionals like doctors, nurses and pharmacists have chosen to violate their oaths and exploit this generosity to line their pockets, sometimes for millions of dollars.  At the Department of Justice, we have taken historic new actions to incarcerate these criminals and recover stolen funds, including executing the largest healthcare fraud enforcement action in American history.  These achievements are important, but the department’s work is not finished. We will keep up this pace and continue to prosecute fraudsters so that we can give financial relief to taxpayers.”

“Today’s report highlights the success of HHS and DOJ’s joint fraud-fighting efforts,” said HHS Secretary Azar. “By holding individuals and entities accountable for defrauding our federal health programs, we are protecting the programs’ beneficiaries, safeguarding billions in taxpayer dollars, and, in the case of pill mills, helping stem the tide of our nation’s opioid epidemic.”

The Departments of Justice (DOJ) and Health and Human Services (HHS), through the Health Care Fraud Prevention and Enforcement Action Team (HEAT) effort, use data analytics and surveillance to crack down on, prevent and prosecute healthcare fraud. While the program continues to be very successful, the return on investment fluctuates from year to year, in part because cases resulting in large settlements take multiple years to complete. Additionally, there has been a reduction in large monetary settlements as many of the large pharmaceutical manufacturers have entered into Corporate Integrity Agreements with the HHS Office of the Inspector General to establish protections against fraudulent activities.

With teams comprised of law enforcement agents, prosecutors, attorneys, auditors, evaluators and other staff, last year DOJ opened 967 new criminal healthcare fraud investigations of which federal prosecutors filed criminal charges in 439 cases involving 720 defendants.  A total of 639 defendants were convicted of healthcare fraud related crimes. In FY 2017, the DOJ and HHS joint Medicare Fraud Strike Force filed 253 indictments and charges against 478 defendants who allegedly billed federal healthcare programs more than $2.3 billion. The Strike Force obtained more than 290 guilty pleas, litigated 33 jury trials and won guilty verdicts against 40 defendants. The Fraud Strike Force secured prison sentences for more than 300 defendants, with an average sentence of 50 months. Since its inception in 2007, Strike Force prosecutors filed more than 1,660 cases charging more than 3,490 defendants who collectively billed the Medicare program more than $13 billion.

Beyond criminal prosecution, the HHS Office of Inspector General (OIG) remains vigilant in excluding providers and suppliers who committed fraud or engaged in the abuse or neglect of patients in federal health programs. A total of 3,244 individuals and entities were excluded in FY 2017. Others were excluded as a result of licensure revocations. These exclusions help to safeguard beneficiaries from future harm that could otherwise be inflicted by such convicted individuals or entities. HHS can also suspend Medicare payments to providers during investigations of credible allegations of fraud.  During FY 2017, there were 551 related payment suspensions.  More than 4 million claims are reviewed by Medicare each day; resulting in more than one billion claims processed annually for timely payments to healthcare providers and suppliers. Given the volume of claims processed by Medicare each day and the significant cost associated with conducting medical review of an individual claim, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services uses automated edits to help prevent improper payments without the need for manual intervention.  The National Correct Coding Initiative consists of edits designed to reduce improper payments in Medicare Part B, and this program saved Medicare $186.9 million during the first nine months of FY 2017.

As the opioid epidemic continues to devastate communities and families across the nation, both DOJ and HHS are responding with new approaches. One out of every three beneficiaries received prescription opioids through Medicare Part D in 2016. Additionally, 401 prescribers were found to have questionable prescribing patterns for beneficiaries at serious risk of opioid misuse or overdose, based on an OIG analysis. Last July, DOJ and HHS announced the largest ever healthcare fraud enforcement action, involving 412 charged defendants across 41 federal districts, including 115 doctors, nurses and other licensed medical professionals, for their alleged participation in healthcare schemes involving approximately $1.3 billion in false billings. Of those charged, more than 120 defendants, including doctors, were charged for their roles in prescribing and distributing opioids and other dangerous narcotics.

In August, Attorney General Sessions announced the formation of the Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit, a new DOJ pilot program that will use data to help combat and prosecute individuals and entities involved in illegal activities that fuel the crisis. As part of that task force, the department funded 12 experienced assistant United States attorneys for a three-year term to focus solely on investigating and prosecuting healthcare fraud related to prescription opioids, including pill mill schemes and pharmacies that unlawfully divert or dispense prescription opioids for illegitimate purposes. Those prosecutors have already charged several with unlawful distribution of opioids, and their continued success is crucial in combatting this deadly epidemic.

For more details on the Health Care Fraud and Abuse Control Program and today’s report, visit: https://oig.hhs.gov/publications/docs/hcfac/FY2017-hcfac.pdf

Los Angeles Dentist Charged in Health Care Fraud Scheme

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

A Los Angeles, California-based dentist was charged in an indictment unsealed on Monday for his alleged participation in a health care fraud and identity theft scheme.

Acting Assistant Attorney General John P. Cronan of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Nicola T. Hanna of the Central District of California, Assistant Director in Charge Andrew W. Vale of the FBI’s Washington, D.C. Field Office and Assistant Director in Charge Paul D. Delacourt of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office made the announcement.

Benjamin Rosenberg, D.D.S., 58, of Los Angeles, was charged with six counts of health care fraud and two counts of aggravated identity theft.  Rosenberg was arrested yesterday morning and made his initial court appearance yesterday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Jean Rosenbluth of the Central District of California.

The indictment alleges that Rosenberg billed various insurance companies, including Medicaid-funded Denti-Cal, for dental procedures that were never provided.  Rosenberg allegedly billed the insurance companies by using patients’ identification without their permission.

An indictment is merely an allegation and the defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

This case was investigated by the FBI’s Washington and Los Angeles Field Offices.  Trial Attorney Emily Culbertson of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section is prosecuting the case.

The Fraud Section leads the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, which is part of a joint initiative between the Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to focus their efforts to prevent and deter fraud and enforce current anti-fraud laws around the country.  The Medicare Fraud Strike Force operates in nine locations nationwide. Since its inception in March 2007, the Medicare Fraud Strike Force has charged over 3,500 defendants who collectively have falsely billed the Medicare program for over $12.5 billion.

Japanese Fiber Manufacturer to Pay $66 Million for Alleged False Claims Related to Defective Bullet Proof Vests

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Toyobo Co. Ltd. of Japan and its American subsidiary, Toyobo U.S.A. Inc., f/k/a Toyobo America Inc. (collectively, Toyobo), have agreed to pay $66 million to resolve claims under the False Claims Act that they sold defective Zylon fiber used in bullet proof vests that the United States purchased for federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies, the Justice Department announced today.

The settlement resolves allegations that between at least 2001 and 2005, Toyobo, the sole manufacturer of Zylon fiber, knew that Zylon degraded quickly in normal heat and humidity, and that this degradation rendered bullet proof vests containing Zylon unfit for use.  The United States further alleged that Toyobo nonetheless actively marketed Zylon fiber for bullet proof vests, published misleading degradation data that understated the degradation problem, and when Second Chance Body Armor recalled some of its Zylon-containing vests in late 2003, started a public relations campaign designed to influence other body armor manufacturers to keep selling Zylon-containing vests.  According to the United States, Toyobo’s actions delayed by several years the government’s efforts to determine the true extent of Zylon degradation.  Finally, in August 2005, the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) completed a study of Zylon-containing vests and found that more than 50 percent of used vests could not stop bullets that they had been certified to stop.  Thereafter, the NIJ decertified all Zylon-containing vests.

“Bulletproof vests are sometimes what stands between a police officer and death,” said Attorney General Jeff Sessions.  “Selling material for these vests that one knows to be defective is dishonest, and risks the lives of the men and women who serve to protect us. The Department of Justice is committed to the protection of our law enforcement officers, and today’s resolution sends another clear message that we will not tolerate those who put our first responders in harm’s way.”

“This settlement sends a strong message to suppliers of products to the federal government that they must be truthful in their claims, particularly with regard to health and safety,” said Carol Fortine Ochoa, Inspector General of the General Services Administration.

This settlement is part of a larger investigation undertaken by the Civil Division of the body armor industry’s use of Zylon in body armor.  The Civil Division previously recovered more than $66 million from 16 entities involved in the manufacture, distribution or sale of Zylon vests, including body armor manufacturers, weavers, international trading companies, and five individuals.  The settlement announced today brings the Division’s overall recoveries to over $132 million.  The United States still has lawsuits pending against Richard Davis, the former chief executive of Second Chance, and Honeywell International Inc.

The settlement announced today resolves allegations filed in two lawsuits, one brought by the United States and the other filed by Aaron Westrick, Ph.D., a law enforcement officer formerly employed by Second Chance who is now a Criminal Justice professor at Lake Superior University.  Dr. Westrick’s lawsuit was filed under the qui tam, or whistleblower, provisions of the False Claims Act, which permit private individuals to sue on behalf of the government for false claims and to share in any recovery.  The Act also allows the government to intervene and take over the action, as it did in 2005 in Dr. Westrick’s case.  Dr. Westrick will receive $5,775,000.

This case was handled by the Justice Department’s Civil Division, along with the General Services Administration, Office of the Inspector General; the Department of Commerce, Office of Inspector General; the Defense Criminal Investigative Service; the U.S. Army Criminal Investigative Command; the Department of the Treasury, Office of Inspector General for Tax Administration; the Air Force Office of Special Investigations; the Department of Energy, Office of the Inspector General; and the Defense Contracting Audit Agency.

The claims settled by this agreement are allegations only; there has been no determination of liability.  The lawsuits resolved by the settlement are captioned United States ex rel. Westrick v. Second Chance Body Armor, et al., No. 04-0280 (PLF) (D.D.C.) and United States v. Toyobo Co. Ltd., et al., No. 07-1144 (PLF) (D.D.C.).

 

Beam Bros. Trucking Inc. and Its Principals Agree to Settle Civil False Claims Act Allegations

Monday, March 12, 2018

Beam Bros. Trucking Inc. (BBT), and its principals Gerald Beam and Garland Beam, have agreed to pay $1,025,000 to resolve allegations under the False Claims Act that BBT overcharged the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) on contracts to transport mail.  BBT is a trucking company located in Mt. Crawford, Virginia.

“The Department of Justice takes seriously its role in protecting the federal procurement process from false claims,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Chad A. Readler of the Justice Department’s Civil Division.  “This settlement demonstrates that we will hold accountable federal contractors engaging in fraud, and will ensure that federal funds are protected from overcharges and abuse.”

“We are gratified to have contributed to this investigation and applaud the exceptional work by the investigative team for both protecting the contracting process and overall program costs,” said Special Agent in Charge Scott Pierce of the U.S. Postal Service Office of Inspector General.  “Along with our law enforcement partners, the USPS OIG will continue to aggressively investigate those who engage in activities designed to defraud the Postal Service.”

“Contractors working for the federal government are held to the same high ethical standards as full-time employees,” U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey Craig Carpenito said. “This settlement will return more than $1 million to the USPS.”

USPS contracts with trucking companies, including BBT, to transport mail throughout the United States.  On some contracts, USPS had provided trucking contractors with credit cards, known as Voyager Cards, to pay for fuel.  This settlement resolves allegations that BBT misused Voyager Cards to purchase fuel on contracts that did not allow for their use, resulting in inflated charges in violation of the False Claims Act.

The settlement resolves allegations made in lawsuit filed under the whistleblower provision of the False Claims Act by Bobby Blizzard, a former BBT employee.  The False Claims Act permits private parties to file suit on behalf of the United States for false claims and obtain a portion of the government’s recovery.  Mr. Blizzard’s share of the recovery has yet to be determined.

The settlement was the result of a coordinated effort between the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey, the Civil Division of the Department of Justice, and the USPS, Office of the Inspector General.

The lawsuit, which was filed in the District of New Jersey, is captioned United States ex rel. Doe v. Beam Bros. Trucking, Inc., Civil Action No. 10-657 (D.N.J.).  The claims resolved by this settlement are allegations only, and there has been no determination of liability.

Pennsylvania Hospital and Cardiology Group Agree to Pay $20.75 Million to Settle Allegations of Kickbacks and Improper Financial Relationships

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

UPMC Hamot (Hamot), a hospital based in Erie, Pennsylvania – and now affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) – and Medicor Associates Inc. (Medicor), a regional physician cardiology practice, have agreed to pay the government $20,750,000 to settle a False Claims Act lawsuit alleging that they knowingly submitted claims to the Medicare and Medicaid programs that violated the Anti‑Kickback Statute and the Physician Self‑Referral Law, the Justice Department announced today.  Hamot became affiliated with UPMC after the conduct resolved by the settlement occurred.

The Anti-Kickback Statute prohibits offering, paying, soliciting, or receiving remuneration to induce referrals of items or services covered by Medicare, Medicaid, and other federally funded programs.  The Physician Self-Referral Law, commonly known as the Stark Law, prohibits a hospital from billing Medicare for certain services referred by physicians with whom the hospital has an improper compensation arrangement.  Both the Anti-Kickback Statute and the Stark Law are intended to ensure that a physician’s medical judgment is not compromised by improper financial incentives and is instead based on the best interests of the patient.

The settlement resolves allegations brought in a whistleblower action filed under the False Claims Act alleging that, from 1999 to 2010, Hamot paid Medicor up to $2 million per year under twelve physician and administrative services arrangements which were created to secure Medicor patient referrals.  Hamot allegedly had no legitimate need for the services contracted for, and in some instances the services either were duplicative or were not performed.

“Financial arrangements that improperly compensate physicians for referrals encourage physicians to make decisions based on financial gain rather than patient needs,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Chad A. Readler, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Division.  “The Department of Justice is committed to preventing illegal financial relationships that undermine the integrity of our public health programs.”

The lawsuit was filed by Dr. Tullio Emanuele, who worked for Medicor from 2001 to 2005, under the qui tam, or whistleblower, provisions of the False Claims Act.  The Act permits private parties to sue on behalf of the government when they believe that defendants submitted false claims for government funds and to share in any recovery.  The Act also allows the government to take over the case or, as in this case, the whistleblower to pursue it.  In a March 15, 2017 ruling, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania held that two of Hamot’s arrangements with Medicor violated the Stark Law.  The case was set for trial when the United States helped to facilitate the settlement.  Dr. Emanuele will receive $6,017,500.

“Federal law prohibits physicians from entering into financial relationships that may affect their medical judgment and drive up health care costs,” said U.S. Attorney Scott W. Brady.  “Today’s settlement demonstrates our commitment to ensuring that health care decisions are made based exclusively on the needs of the patient, rather than the financial interests of health care providers.”

This matter was handled on behalf of the government by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Pennsylvania, the Justice Department’s Civil Division, and the Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General.

The case is captioned United States ex rel. Emanuele v. Medicor Associates, Inc. et al., Civil Action No. 10-cv-00245-JFC (W.D. Pa.).  The False Claims Act claims resolved by this settlement are allegations only and there has been no determination of liability.

Owner and Manager of New York Medical Equipment Provider Charged for Their Roles in Alleged $3.5 Million Scheme to Defraud Government-Funded Health Plans

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The owner and the manager of a purported durable medical equipment (DME) company in the Bronx, New York, were charged in an indictment unsealed today for their roles in an allegedly fraudulent scheme that involved submitting over $3.5 million in claims to private insurers, which included government-sponsored managed care organizations.

Acting Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Blanco of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Acting U.S. Attorney Bridget M. Rohde of the Eastern District of New York, Assistant Director in Charge William F. Sweeney Jr. of the FBI’s New York Field Office and Special Agent in Charge Scott Lampert of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General’s (HHS-OIG) Office of Investigations made the announcement.

Ikechukwu Udeokoro, 41, of West New York, New Jersey, and Ayodeji Fasonu, 51, of Stamford, Connecticut, the owner and manager, respectively, of Meik Medical Equipment and Supply LLC of the Bronx, were charged with one count of health care fraud in an indictment filed in the Eastern District of New York on Nov. 13.  The indictment was unsealed upon the arrest of the defendants this morning, and the defendants are expected to be arraigned this afternoon before U.S. Magistrate Judge James Orenstein of the Eastern District of New York at the federal courthouse in Brooklyn.  The case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Ann M. Donnelly.

According to the indictment, beginning in approximately December 2010 and continuing through at least February 2014, Udeokoro and Fasonu executed a scheme in which they submitted fraudulent claims to private insurers, including those that participated in Medicare Part C, for reimbursement for DME that was purportedly provided to the insurers’ members, many of whom were elderly or disabled and had insurance through Medicare Advantage plans or New York Medicaid Managed Care plans.  As part of the scheme, the defendants allegedly submitted claims to the private insurers for reimbursement for DME such as multi-positional patient support systems and combination sit-to-stand systems, when the defendants in fact provided the insurers’ members either nothing or a far less expensive product, such as a lift chair/recliner.

As alleged in the indictment, Meik Medical Equipment & Supply submitted more than $3.5 million in claims.

The charges in the indictment are merely allegations, and all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

The FBI and HHS-OIG investigated the case, which was brought as part of the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, under the supervision by the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York.  Trial Attorney Andrew Estes of the Fraud Section is prosecuting the case.

The Fraud Section leads the Medicare Fraud Strike Force.  Since its inception in March 2007, the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, now operating in nine cities across the country, has charged nearly 3,500 defendants who have collectively billed the Medicare program for more than $12.5 billion.  In addition, the HHS Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, working in conjunction with HHS-OIG, are taking steps to increase accountability and decrease the presence of fraudulent providers.

Miami-Area Man Sentenced to Five Years in Prison for Role in $63 Million Health Care Fraud Scheme

Thursday, February 22, 2018

A Miami-area man was sentenced to 60 months in prison today for his role in a $63 million health care fraud scheme involving a now-defunct community mental health center located in Miami that purported to provide partial hospitalization program (PHP) services to individuals suffering from mental illness.

Acting Assistant Attorney General John P. Cronan of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Benjamin G. Greenberg of the Southern District of Florida, Special Agent in Charge Robert Lasky of the FBI’s Miami Field Office and Special Agent in Charge Shimon R. Richmond of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General’s (HHS-OIG) Miami Regional Office made the announcement.

Samuel Konell, 70, of Boca Raton, Florida, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Jose E. Martinez of the Southern District of Florida.  Judge Martinez also ordered Konell to pay $9,921,726 in restitution and to forfeit certain substitute assets, including several pieces of jewelry, in partial satisfaction of a personal money judgment entered against the defendant in the amount of $432,829.  Konell pleaded guilty on Nov. 21, 2017, to one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States and receive health care kickbacks.

As part of his guilty plea, Konell admitted that from approximately January 2006 through June 2012, he received kickbacks and/or bribes in return for referring Medicare beneficiaries from the Miami-Dade state court system to Greater Miami Behavioral Healthcare Center Inc. (Greater Miami) to serve as patients.  He admitted that he coordinated with criminal defendants in the state court system to obtain court orders for mental health treatment in lieu of incarceration so that he could refer those individuals to Greater Miami to serve as patients in return for kickbacks and/or bribes.  Konell further admitted that he did so knowing that certain of those individuals were not mentally ill or otherwise did not meet the criteria for PHP treatment.

In addition, Konell admitted that he and his co-conspirators at Greater Miami took steps to disguise the true nature of the kickbacks and/or bribes that Greater Miami paid to Konell and other patient brokers. Specifically, Konell was placed on the Greater Miami payroll to make the kickbacks and/or bribes appear as though they were legitimate salary payments, he admitted.  Konell further admitted that he was originally paid a flat monthly rate that was based on the number of patients he referred to Greater Miami from the state court system, and when Konell referred more patients to Greater Miami, his co-conspirators found ways to pay him over and above his regular kickback payments, including by providing him with holiday bonuses.

In furtherance of the kickback conspiracy, Konell made representations to judges and others in the Miami-Dade state court system that the individuals he referred to Greater Miami received medically necessary PHP services from Greater Miami when in reality such services were not always needed, he admitted.

According to plea documents, Konell’s co-conspirators caused the submission of over $63 million in false and fraudulent claims to Medicare.  These claims were based on kickbacks and/or bribes paid to Konell and others and were for services that were medically unnecessary, were not eligible for Medicare reimbursement or were never provided by Greater Miami.  Konell admitted that his participation in the Greater Miami scheme resulted in the submission of claims to Medicare totaling between at least approximately $9.5 and $25 million.

Eleven other individuals have pleaded guilty and have been sentenced for their roles in the scheme, including the owner of Greater Miami, three administrators and seven patient brokers.

This case was investigated by the FBI and HHS-OIG and was brought as part of the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, supervised by the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida.  Former Senior Trial Attorney Christopher J. Hunter and Trial Attorneys Elizabeth Young and Leslie Wright of the Fraud Section prosecuted the case.  Assistant U.S. Attorney Adrienne Rosen of the Southern District of Florida is handling the forfeiture aspects of the case.

The Medicare Fraud Strike Force operations are part of a joint initiative between the Department of Justice and HHS to focus their efforts to prevent and deter fraud and enforce current anti-fraud laws around the country.  The Medicare Fraud Strike Force operates in nine locations nationwide.  Since its inception in March 2007, the Medicare Fraud Strike Force has charged over 3,500 defendants who collectively have falsely billed the Medicare program for over $12.5 billion.