Owner of Home Health Agency Sentenced to 75 Years in Prison for Involvement in $13 Million Medicare Fraud Conspiracy

Friday, August 11, 2017

The owner and director of nursing of a Houston home health agency was sentenced today to 75 years in prison for her role in a $13 million Medicare fraud scheme.

Acting Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Blanco of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Acting U.S. Attorney Abe Martinez of the Southern District of Texas, Special Agent in Charge Perrye K. Turner of the FBI’s Houston Field Office, Special Agent in Charge C.J. Porter of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services-Office of Inspector General’s (HHS-OIG) Dallas Region and Special Agent in Charge D. Richard Goss of the Houston Field Office of IRS-Criminal Investigation Division (IRS-CI) made the announcement.

Marie Neba, 53, of Sugarland, Texas, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Melinda Harmon of the Southern District of Texas.  In November 2016, Neba was convicted after a two-week jury trial of one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud, three counts of health care fraud, one count of conspiracy to pay and receive health care kickbacks, one count of payment and receipt of health care kickbacks, one count of conspiracy to launder monetary instruments and one count of making health care false statements.

According to the evidence presented at trial, from February 2006 through June 2015, Neba and others conspired to defraud Medicare by submitting over $10 million in false and fraudulent claims for home health services to Medicare through Fiango Home Healthcare Inc., owned by Neba and her husband, Ebong Tilong, 53, also of Sugarland, Texas.  The trial evidence showed that using the money that Medicare paid for such fraudulent claims, Neba paid illegal kickbacks to patient recruiters for referring Medicare beneficiaries to Fiango for home health services.  Neba also paid illegal kickbacks to Medicare beneficiaries for allowing Fiango to bill Medicare using beneficiaries’ Medicare information for home health services that were not medically necessary or not provided, the evidence showed.  Neba falsified medical records to make it appear as though the Medicare beneficiaries qualified for and received home health services.  Neba also attempted to suborn perjury from a co-defendant in the federal courthouse, the evidence showed.

According to the evidence presented at trial, from February 2006 to June 2015, Neba received more than $13 million from Medicare for home health services that were not medically necessary or not provided to Medicare beneficiaries.

To date, four others have pleaded guilty based on their roles in the fraudulent scheme at Fiango.  Nirmal Mazumdar, M.D., the former medical director of Fiango, pleaded guilty to a scheme to commit health care fraud for his role at Fiango.  Daisy Carter and Connie Ray Island, two patient recruiters for Fiango, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit health care fraud for their roles at Fiango.  On August 11, Island was sentenced to 33 months in prison.  Mazumdar and Carter are awaiting sentencing.  After the first week of trial, Tilong pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit healthcare fraud, three counts of healthcare fraud, one count of conspiracy to pay and receive healthcare kickbacks, three counts of payment and receipt of healthcare kickbacks, and one count of conspiracy to launder monetary instruments.  Tilong is scheduled to be sentenced on October 13.

The case was investigated by the IRS-CI, FBI and HHS-OIG under the supervision of the Fraud Section of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas.  The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney William S.W. Chang and Senior Trial Attorney Jonathan T. Baum of the Fraud Section.

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.

To learn more about the Health Care Fraud Prevention and Enforcement Action Team (HEAT), go to www.stopmedicarefraud.gov.

Registered Nurse Who Owned Two Houston Home Health Companies Convicted in $20 Million Medicare Fraud Scheme

Thursday, August 10, 2017

A federal jury today convicted a registered nurse who was the owner of two home health companies in Houston for her role in a $20 million Medicare fraud scheme involving fraudulent claims for home health services.

Acting Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Blanco of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Acting U.S. Attorney Abe Martinez of the Southern District of Texas, Special Agent in Charge Perrye K. Turner of the FBI’s Houston Field Office and Special Agent in Charge C.J. Porter of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services-Office of Inspector General’s (HHS-OIG) Dallas Region made the announcement.

After a four-day trial, Evelyn Mokwuah, 52, of Pearland, Texas, was convicted of one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud and four counts of health care fraud for her conduct at Beechwood Home Health (Beechwood) and Criseven Health Management Corporation (Criseven).  Sentencing has been scheduled for October 6, before U.S. District Judge Gray H. Miller of the Southern District of Texas, who presided over the trial.

According to evidence presented at trial, from 2008 to 2016, Mokwuah and others engaged in a scheme to defraud Medicare of approximately $20 million in fraudulent claims for home health services at Beechwood and Criseven that were not provided or not medically necessary.  According to the trial evidence, Mokwuah billed for patients who were not homebound or did not qualify for home health services; Mokwuah and others falsified patient records to show patients were homebound when they were not; Mokwuah paid patient recruiters to recruit Medicare beneficiaries to Beechwood and Criseven; and Mokwuah paid doctors to sign off on falsified plans of care for the recruited beneficiaries so that Beechwood and Criseven could bill Medicare for those services.

Co-defendant Amara Oparanozie, 47, of Richmond, Texas, pleaded guilty on May 24, to conspiring with Mokwuah and others to commit health care fraud and is awaiting sentencing.

The case was investigated by the FBI and HHS-OIG, and was brought as part of the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, under the supervision of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas.  The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorneys Scott Armstrong and Kevin Lowell of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section.

The Fraud Section leads the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, which is part of a joint initiative between the department 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.

Woman Pleads Guilty to Medicaid Fraud and Identity Theft Charges

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

A Richmond woman pleaded guilty today healthcare fraud and aggravated identity theft.

According to court documents, Chermeca Harris, 36, was a Medicaid beneficiary and would misrepresent her health condition to health care providers, such as hospitals and ambulance services, in order to obtain health care benefits. Specifically, Harris would falsely represent that she was suffering from sickle cell anemia and was having a sickle cell crisis in order to obtain pain killing drugs, such as dilaudid, which she wanted to receive intravenously through the neck. In fact, doctors tested Harris in January 2016, and determined she did not have sickle cell anemia. The hospitals involved were Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center, Chippenham, Bon Secours St. Mary’s, Memorial Regional, John Randolph Medical Center, and Henrico Doctor’s. According to court documents, it was a further part of the scheme that Harris also falsely represented her identity. On some occasions she used the name of M.M., and on other occasions she used the name of R.J.; both Medicaid recipients. She also falsely stated to investigating federal agents that her name was M.M. and that she had sickle cell anemia.

Harris was charged as part of the largest ever health care fraud enforcement action by the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, involving 412 charged defendants across 41 federal districts, including 115 doctors, nurses and other licensed medical professionals, for their alleged participation in health care fraud schemes involving approximately $1.3 billion in false billings. Of those charged, over 120 defendants, including doctors, were charged for their roles in prescribing and distributing opioids and other dangerous narcotics. Thirty state Medicaid Fraud Control Units also participated in today’s arrests. In addition, HHS has initiated suspension actions against 295 providers, including doctors, nurses and pharmacists.

Harris pleaded guilty to healthcare fraud on the Medicaid program and aggravated identity theft. She faces a mandatory minimum of two years in prison and a maximum penalty of 12 years in prison, when sentenced on October 26. Actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after taking into account the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

Dana J. Boente, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia; Adam S. Lee, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Richmond Field Office; and Nick DiGiulio, Special Agent in Charge, Philadelphia Regional Office of Inspector General of Department of Health and Human Services, made the announcement after the plea was accepted by Magistrate Judge David J. Novak. Assistant U.S. Attorney David T. Maguire is prosecuting the case.

A copy of this press release is located on the website of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia. Related court documents and information is located on the website of the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia or on PACER by searching for Case No. 3:17-cr-77.

Marshall County physician indicted on health care fraud charges

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

WHEELING, WEST VIRGINIA – A physician with a pain management clinic in McMechen, West Virginia, was indicted by a federal grand jury sitting in Wheeling on June 6, 2017 on health care fraud, mail fraud, and wire fraud charges, Acting United States Attorney Betsy Steinfeld Jividen announced.

Dr. Roland F. Chalifoux, Jr., age 57, of St. Clairsville, Ohio, was indicted on eleven counts of “Health Care Fraud for Travel Dates,” seven counts of “Mail Fraud,” four counts of “Wire Fraud,” and four counts of “Health Care Fraud.” The crimes are alleged to have occurred from 2008 to June 2017 in Marshall County and elsewhere in the Northern District of West Virginia.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert H. McWilliams is prosecuting the case on behalf of the government. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, The Drug Enforcement Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the United States Postal Inspection Service, and the West Virginia Insurance Fraud Investigation Unit are investigating.

An indictment is merely an accusation. A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

District Court Enters Permanent Injunction Against Tennessee Company and Its CEO to Stop Distribution of Unapproved and Misbranded Drugs

Thursday, July 27, 2017

The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee entered a consent decree of permanent injunction against Crown Laboratories Inc. and the firm’s Chief Executive Officer, Jeffrey Bedard, to stop the distribution of unapproved and misbranded drugs, the Department of Justice announced today. The products at issue include urea creams and lotions intended to treat a variety of skin ailments.

The Department filed a complaint in the Eastern District of Tennessee on March 1, at the request of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The complaint alleged that the defendants violated the federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act by, among other things, introducing unapproved and misbranded drugs into interstate commerce. Specifically, the complaint alleges that defendants sold a series of dermatological creams, despite the absence of FDA approval or a sufficient showing that these products were safe and effective.

“The public has a right to assume that drugs in the marketplace are safe, effective, have obtained proper approvals, and are labeled with the information necessary to allow for proper use,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Chad Readler of the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “Where drug manufacturers violate these fundamental requirements, the Department of Justice will continue to work aggressively with the FDA to ensure that the pharmaceutical industry follows the rules. Doing so is necessary to protect American consumers.”

As detailed in the complaint, Crown manufactures a variety of prescription and OTC drugs including prescription urea cream and lotion. The products referenced in the complaint include Rea Lo (Urea 40 percent) Cream, Rea Lo (Urea 40 percent) Lotion, Rea Lo 39 (Urea 39 percent) Cream, Dermasorb XM Complete Kit (Urea 39 persent cream and moisturizer), and Sodium Sulfacetamide 10 percent and Sulfur 5 percent (Sodium Sulfacetamide).

As noted in the complaint, the various urea based products were sold as products intended to treat a series of dermatological conditions, such as dry, rough skin, xerosis, ichthyosis, skin cracks and fissures, dermatitis, eczema, psoriasis, keratosis, and calluses. Sodium Sulfacetamide is intended to treat acne vulgaris, acne rosacea, and seborrheic dermatitis. As products designed to provide dermatological treatment, these drugs required FDA approval for their intended uses – approval that was lacking for all of these products. Distributing unapproved drugs in interstate commerce is a violation of the federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.

In conjunction with the filing of the complaint, the defendants agreed to settle the case and to be bound by a permanent injunction. The injunction requires Crown to stop the manufacturing, selling and introducing into interstate commerce any Rea Lo (Urea 40 percent) Cream, Rea Lo (Urea 40 percent) Lotion, Rea Lo 39 (Urea 39 percent) Cream, Dermasorb XM Complete Kit, Sodium Sulfacetamide, or any drug labeled similarly to such drugs and containing the same active ingredient(s), unless and until an application has been filed with the FDA and approved by the agency.

In addition, within 20 days after the district court’s order, the defendants are required, among other things, to give FDA written notice that they are prepared to destroy all Rea Lo (Urea 40 percent) Cream, Rea Lo (Urea 40 percent) Lotion, Rea Lo 39 (Urea 39 percent) Cream, Dermasorb XM Complete Kit, Sodium Sulfacetamide, and any unapproved drug labeled similarly to such drugs and containing the same active ingredient(s).

The government is represented by Trial Attorney Mary M. Englehart of the Civil Division’s Consumer Protection Branch, with the assistance of Associate Chief Counsel for Enforcement Susan Williams of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of General Counsel’s Food and Drug Division.

Additional information about the Consumer Protection Branch and its enforcement efforts may be found at http://www.justice.gov/civil/consumer-protection-branch.

Pharmacist Pleads Guilty to Health Care Fraud Charges for Role in $192 Million Compounded Medication Scheme; Pharmacy Marketer Also Pleads Guilty

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The Pharmacist in Charge of a Hattiesburg, Mississippi compounding pharmacy pleaded guilty today to health care fraud charges for his role in a scheme that defrauded TRICARE and private insurance companies out of at least $192 million in payments for medically unnecessary compounded medications.

Acting Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Blanco of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Acting U.S. Attorney Harold Brittain of the Southern District of Mississippi, Special Agent in Charge Christopher Freeze of the FBI’s Jackson Division, Special Agent in Charge Jerome R. McDuffie of the Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigation’s New Orleans Field Office and John F. Khin and the Defense Criminal Investigative Service Southeast Field Office made the announcement.

May, 40, of Lamar County, Mississippi, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud and money laundering before U.S. District Judge Keith Starrett of the Southern District of Mississippi. Sentencing has been scheduled for October 17 before Judge Starrett.

As part of his guilty plea, May admitted that he conspired with others to select compounded medication formulas based on profitability, rather than on effectiveness or patient need. He further admitted that he conspired with co-owners of the pharmacy to circumvent fraud prevention measures, such as collecting copayments, so that patients were incentivized to receive, and continue to receive, medically unnecessary medications.  According to plea documents, May dispensed these medically unnecessary compounded medications and caused fraudulent claims to be submitted to TRICARE, a health care program that benefits members of the U.S. armed forces, and other health care benefit programs. Based on these fraudulent claims, May and his co-conspirators received at least $192 million in reimbursements.

In a related case, Gerald Schaar, 46, of Biloxi, Mississippi, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud for his role in the scheme to defraud TRICARE. According to plea documents, Schaar admitted to soliciting physicians and other medical professionals to write prescriptions without seeing patients for medically unnecessary compounded medications dispensed by the pharmacy. According to the plea documents, Schaar further admitted to conspiring with others to falsify patient records to make it appear as though medical professionals had seen patients prior to the date prescriptions were written, when in reality, no examinations had occurred. As a result of the fraudulent prescriptions obtained by Schaar, and ultimately forwarded to the pharmacy, TRICARE reimbursed approximately $2.3 million in false and fraudulent claims submitted by the pharmacy. Sentencing for Schaar has been scheduled for October 17 before Judge Starrett.

This case was investigated by the FBI Jackson Division’s Hattiesburg Resident Agency, the IRS Criminal Investigation, the Defense Criminal Investigative Service, Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General, the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics, and other government agencies. Trial Attorneys Dustin Davis and Katherine Payerle 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. In addition, the HHS Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, working in conjunction with the HHS-OIG, are taking steps to increase accountability and decrease the presence of fraudulent providers.

Individuals who believe that they may be a victim in this case should visit the Fraud Section’s Victim Witness website for more information.

Three Sentenced for Roles in Healthcare Conspiracy

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Deborah Branch, Bryan Harr, Melissa Harr Will All Serve Time in Federal Prison

Abingdon, VIRGINIA – Three Bristol, Virginia residents, who were previously convicted of healthcare fraud, were sentenced today in Federal Court, Acting United States Attorney Rick A. Mountcastle, Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring and Nick DiGiulio, Special Agent in Charge, Philadelphia Regional Office for U.S. Health and Human Services – Office of Inspector General announced.

Deborah Branch, 65, was sentenced today to 72 months in federal prison. In a pair of separate hearings today, Bryan Harr, 41, was sentenced to 48 months in federal prison and Melissa Harr, 49, was sentenced to 48 months in federal prison. The three previously pled guilty to federal healthcare conspiracy charges. Branch additionally pled guilty to wire fraud.

“This case shows that fraud committed against our federal and state health care benefit programs is more than just simple theft of government money, there is a sinister side to the greed that fuels the criminal acts of defendants like these,” Acting United States Attorney Mountcastle said today. “This type of greed brings physical and emotional devastation upon the innocent, vulnerable victims for whom essential services are denied, simply to satiate the greed of these defendants. In this case, children were forced to live in filth in a room without electricity. The United States Attorney’s Office, and our partners at the Virginia Attorney General’s Office, Health and Human Services and others, will continue to aggressively pursue fraudsters, like Branch and the Harrs, whose criminal actions bring harm to vulnerable victims.”

“Anyone who diverts public funds for their private benefit is stealing from all of us and undermining an important system that provides thousands of Virginians with needed medical services,” said Attorney General Mark Herring. “A situation where people steal that money at the expense of their own disabled child is even more horrifying and unacceptable, and I’m glad to see these criminals brought to justice today. My award-winning Medicaid Fraud Unit and I will be relentless in holding accountable those who try to take advantage of our health care system.”

“It is shocking to imagine parents who would for many years neglect their disabled child and allow him to suffer horribly while they worked to steal taxpayer money meant to pay for the child’s much needed care,” said Special Agent in Charge Nick DiGiulio of the United States Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General. “We are satisfied that justice was served today, and we will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to jail heartless criminals who prey on beneficiaries and our health care system.”

According to evidence presented at previous hearings, Bryan Harr Sr. and his wife, Melissa Harr, hired Branch to work with one of their children, who suffers from intellectual and physical disabilities and who qualifies for services paid for by Virginia Medicaid, including personal assistance, respite and residential support services. These services are available to qualified individuals pursuant to Virginia Medicaid’s Intellectual Disability (ID) waiver program. The ID waiver program is designed to provide critical services that enable a recipient to remain at home instead of being placed in an institution. Recipients or their guardians are permitted to hire workers of their own choosing to provide these services, which are paid for by Virginia Medicaid. Branch was paid through two different Virginia Medicaid contractors: Public Partnerships, LLC and ResCare (formerly known as Creative Family Solutions).

From January 2010 until September 2015, Branch, with the knowledge of Melissa Harr and Bryan Harr Sr., submitted time sheets claiming Branch was providing services for Harr’s disabled son when she was not. In exchange for assisting Branch in being paid for work she did not do, Branch paid the Harrs approximately $200 every two weeks. Virginia Medicaid’s Department of Medical Assistance Services (DMAS) paid out $350,641.02 to the contractors based on these time sheets, of which $207,854.43 was paid to Branch. More importantly, the Harr’s disabled son did not receive the services he legitimately needed pursuant to the ID waiver program.

The investigation of the case was conducted by the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit of the Virginia Attorney General’s Office, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General, and the Bristol Virginia Police Department. Special Assistant United States Attorney Janine M. Myatt, a Virginia Assistant Attorney General, prosecuted the case for the United States.

Owner Of Tampa Parathyroid Practice Agrees To Pay $4 Million To Resolve False Claims Act Allegations

Monday, July 24, 2017

Tampa, FL  – Dr. James Norman, the owner and operator of James Norman, MD, PA, a/k/a James Norman, MD, PA Parathyroid Center, d/b/a Norman Parathyroid Center (collectively, Norman) has agreed to pay $4 million to resolve allegations that he violated the False Claims Act by knowingly engaging in various unlawful billing practices with respect to Medicare and other federal health care programs and their beneficiaries.

Specifically, the government alleges that, from April 2008 through December 2016, Dr. Norman submitted fraudulent claims to Medicare, TRICARE, and the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program for pre-operative examinations performed on the day before or the day of surgery, and charged and collected extra fees from federal health care beneficiaries for services for which he had already received payment from the government. These extra fees ranged from $150 to $750 for Florida residents, to $1,750 or more for patients who lived out-of-state. Collectively, Dr. Norman and his practice pocketed hundreds of thousands of dollars as a result of these illicit billing practices.

“Fraudulent billing of the government, while also charging Medicare and other federal health care beneficiaries extra fees for services that the government has already paid for victimizes taxpayers, military veterans, the elderly, and other members of our community, and will not be tolerated,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Muldrow. “This lawsuit and today’s settlement demonstrates our office’s ongoing efforts to safeguard federal health care program beneficiaries from the effects of such illegal conduct.”

In addition to paying $4 million, Norman has also agreed to enter into an integrity agreement with the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“Physicians who systematically overbill Federal health care programs and their vulnerable patients will be held responsible for this fraudulent behavior,” said Special Agent in Charge Shimon R. Richmond of HHS-OIG. “Those who engage in such schemes can expect a thorough investigation and strong remedial measures such as those in the Integrity Agreement we signed with Dr. Norman.”

The settlement concludes a lawsuit originally filed by a former patient of Dr. Norman, Myra Gross, and her husband, Dr. David Gross, in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida. 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. Act also allows the government to intervene and take over the action, as it did in this case. Ms. Gross and her husband, Dr. Gross, will receive roughly $600,000 of the proceeds from the settlement with Norman.

The government’s action in this matter illustrates the government’s emphasis on combating health care fraud. One of the most powerful tools in this effort is the False Claims Act. Tips from all sources about potential fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement can be reported to the Department of Health and Human Services, at 800-HHS-TIPS (800-447-8477).

The settlement was the result of a coordinated effort by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services – Office of Inspector General. It was handled Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Tuite.

The case is captioned United States ex rel. Gross, et al. v. James Norman, MD, PA, et al., Case No. 8:14-cv-978-T-33EAJ. The settlement resolves the United States’ claims in that case. The claims resolved by the settlement are allegations only, and there has been no determination of liability.

Clinical Psychologist and Owner of Psychological Services Centers Sentenced to 264 Months for Roles in $25 Million Psychological Testing Scheme Carried out Through Eight Companies in Four States

Friday, July 14, 2017

Two owners of psychological services companies, one of whom was a clinical psychologist, were sentenced yesterday for their involvement in a $25.2 million Medicare fraud scheme carried out through eight companies at nursing homes in four states in the Southeastern U.S.

The announcement was made by Acting Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Blanco of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Acting U.S. Attorney Duane A. Evans of the Eastern District of Louisiana, Special Agent in Charge Jeffrey S. Sallet of the FBI’s New Orleans Field Office and Special Agent in Charge C.J. Porter of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General’s (HHS-OIG) Dallas Regional Office.

Rodney Hesson, 47, of Slidell, Louisiana, and Gertrude Parker, 63 of Slidell, Louisiana, were sentenced on July 13, to 180 months’ imprisonment and 84 months’ imprisonment by U.S. District Court Judge Carl J. Barbier of the Eastern District of Louisiana. Judge Barbier also ordered Hesson to pay $13,800,553.57 in restitution, and ordered Parker to pay $7,313,379.75 in restitution. The defendants were each convicted of one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud and one count of conspiracy to make false statements related to health care matters on January 24.

According to evidence presented at trial, Hesson and Parker’s companies, Nursing Home Psychological Services (NHPS) and Psychological Care Services (PCS), respectively, contracted with nursing homes in Alabama, Florida, Lousiana and Mississippi to allow NHPS and PCS clinical psychologists to provide psychological services to nursing home residents. Hesson and Parker caused these companies to bill Medicare for psychological testing services that these nursing home residents did not need or in some instances did not receive, the trial evidence showed. During trial, evidence was entered showing that between 2009 and 2015, NHPS and PCS submitted over $25.2 million in claims to Medicare, the vast majority of which were fraudulent, while Medicare paid more than $13.5 million on the fraudulent claims. The jury verdict included a money judgment of $8,956,278, as well as forfeiture of Hesson’s home and at least $525,629 in seized currency.

The case was investigated by the FBI and HHS-OIG, and brought by the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, under the supervision of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Louisiana. The case is being prosecuted by Senior Litigiation Counsel John Michelich and Trial Attorneys Katherine Raut and Katherine Payerle of the Fraud Section.

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 over 3,000 defendants who collectively have billed the Medicare program for over $11 billion. In addition, the HHS Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, working in conjunction with the HHS-OIG, are taking steps to increase accountability and decrease the presence of fraudulent providers.

To learn more about the Health Care Fraud Prevention and Enforcement Action Team (HEAT), go to www.stopmedicarefraud.gov.

As Part of National Health Care Fraud Takedown, Federal Prosecutors in Los Angeles Charge 14 Defendants in Fraud Schemes that Allegedly Cost Public Healthcare Programs nearly $150 Million

Thursday, July 13, 2017

LOS ANGELES – In the largest-ever health care fraud enforcement action by federal prosecutors, 14 defendants – including doctors, nurses and other licensed medical professionals – have been charged in the Central District of California for allegedly participating in health care fraud schemes that caused approximately $147 million in losses.

The defendants charged locally are among hundreds of people charged across the United States in cases that cumulatively allege approximately $1.3 billion in false billings. The nationwide sweep includes charges against more than 120 defendants – some of whom are doctors – who allegedly prescribed and distributed opioids and other dangerous narcotics.

In the Central District of California, 14 defendants were charged for their roles in schemes to defraud health insurance programs such as Medicare. The cases allege health care fraud and kickback schemes involving compounded drugs, home health services, physical therapy, acupuncture, Medicare Part D prescription drugs, diagnostic sleep studies and hospice care.

“Health care fraud schemes such as these threaten the vital trust between a patient and his or her health care provider, undermine the integrity of our health care system, and cost all Americans billions of dollars,” said Acting United States Attorney Sandra R. Brown. “Today’s announcement serves as a clear warning that we will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to identify and hold accountable health care professionals who commit these crimes.”

The defendants charged locally include four physicians, including Dr. Jeffrey Olsen, who was charged with illegally prescribing controlled substances, including the opiate oxycodone.

The 57-year-old Olsen surrendered to authorities on Tuesday after being indicted last week by a federal grand jury on 34 counts of illegally prescribing controlled drugs, including oxycodone, and one count of false statement on a DEA registration application. Olsen, a resident of Laguna Beach, allegedly sold prescriptions to addicts and drug dealers in exchange for fixed cash fees, without any medical basis for the prescriptions.

During the investigation, Olsen also sold hundreds of prescriptions to addicts in other states, such as Oregon, without ever seeing the “patients” for an in-person examination. In text messages to these out-of-state customers, Olsen allegedly told customers that, in exchange for exorbitant fees as high as $3,000, he would write prescriptions for whatever drug they wanted, and that he would never check whether they were actually taking the prescribed drugs or whether they were getting additional narcotic prescriptions from other doctors. Olsen allegedly sold more than 1.2 million pills of narcotics, which were almost entirely at maximum strength, in addition to hundreds of thousands of pills of other controlled drugs such as the sedatives Xanax and Soma. The case against Olsen is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Ben Barron and Bryant Yang.

In another local case involving a physician, Dr. Thomas S. Powers and Anthony Paduano were arrested Tuesday on healthcare fraud charges that allegedly bilked TRICARE.

The indictment in this case alleges that Powers, of Santa Ana, authorized prescriptions for compounded medications for patients he never examined. Under an agreement, Paduano, of Newport Beach, allegedly paid Powers $200 for each prescription. Paduano received approximately $1.2 million for referring the prescriptions to a local pharmacy that billed TRICARE more than $4.8 million and was paid more than $3.1 million. This case is being handled by Assistant United States Attorneys Mark Aveis, Paul Stern and Cassie Palmer.

“Americans already struggling with health care issues and rising premiums are further burdened with each dollar lost to fraud,” said Deirdre Fike, the Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office. “The losses estimated in Los Angeles for this operation alone are staggering as the abundance of health care fraud schemes in southern California adds considerably to this nationwide crime issue. By collaborating with our partners, we will continue to hold accountable those who get rich by targeting federal health care programs with fraud.”

“Those who would enrich themselves through healthcare fraud – including billing for unnecessary services, accepting kickbacks, and billing for prescriptions that were never provided – are putting profits over patients, stealing from government health programs and taxpayers alike,” said Special Agent in Charge Christian Schrank, of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General. “These operations show yet again our commitment to working with our federal and state law enforcement partners. In fighting this epidemic, we must all stand together.”

“IRS Criminal Investigation will not stand still while criminals line their pockets with illicit proceeds obtained from publicly funded health care programs,” said IRS Criminal Investigation Special Agent in Charge R. Damon Rowe. “It depletes scarce taxpayer dollars and will not be tolerated. IRS Criminal Investigation will continue to work with our federal and state law enforcement partners to bring justice to those individuals who prey on the nation’s health care system for their own personal greed.”

“Our office, in partnership with our fellow investigative agencies, will continue to uncompromisingly investigate and bring to justice the people who perpetrate these criminal acts,” said Amtrak Inspector General Tom Howard. We will remain vigilant in protecting Amtrak employees, retirees, and their dependents, by ensuring our health care dollars are not wasted on fraudulent providers,”

“The Department of Labor – Employee Benefits Security Administration will continue to vigorously investigate wrongdoers committing health care fraud against employer sponsored health plans in Southern California which also impact TRICARE, Medicare, Medicaid” said Crisanta Johnson, DOL-EBSA’s Los Angeles Regional Office.

The other cases filed in federal court in Los Angeles as part of the nationwide sweep are:

  • Aniceto Baliton, of Diamond Bar, co-owner and managing employee of Bliss Hospice in Glendora, was charged yesterday with one count of conspiracy to pay and receive illegal remunerations for health care referrals. The charge stems from Baliton’s role in a fraud scheme to pay kickbacks in exchange for Medicare beneficiaries referred to Bliss and billed by Bliss for hospice services. As part of the fraud scheme, Baliton and the co-owners of the hospice also agreed to generate cash for the illegal kickbacks by disguising such monies as payroll expenses. Based on the referrals that Baliton and his co-conspirators obtained through illegal kickbacks, Bliss submitted claims to Medicare and was paid approximately $2.4 million. The case is being handled by DOJ Trial Attorney Claire Yan.
  • Aleksandr Suris and Maxim Sverdlov, co-owners and operators of Royal Care Pharmacy in Los Angeles, were arrested Monday on charges related to a scheme that allegedly brought in more than $41.5 million from Medicare and CIGNA. The indictment in this case charges Suris with two counts of conspiracy to commit health care fraud and 10 counts of health care fraud, and Sverdlov with one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud and four counts of health care fraud. The defendants allegedly submitted fraudulent bills for prescription drugs that were never filled by the pharmacy or were not provided to the person to whom the drug was prescribed. The case is being handled by DOJ Trial Attorney Robyn N. Pullio.
  • Dr. Kanagasabai Kanakeswaran was indicted late last month on one count of conspiracy to pay and receive kickbacks for health care referrals and four counts of receiving kickbacks for health care referrals. The charges arise from a kickback conspiracy at a home health company called Star Home Health Resources. The owners and operators of Star allegedly paid kickbacks to referring physicians, including Dr. Kanakeswaran, in exchange for the physicians referring Medicare beneficiaries to receive home health services from Star. The indictment alleges that from May 2008 to May 2016, Star was paid $4,157,311 from Medicare based on home health services that Dr. Kanakeswaran referred to Star in exchange for illegal kickbacks. The case is being handled by Assistant United States Attorney Alex Porter and DOJ Trial Attorney Claire Yan.
  • Jamen Oliver Griffith and Damon Glover were charged late last month with conspiring to solicit, receive and pay illegal kickbacks for health care referrals. The charges stem from defendants’ role in a scheme involving undisclosed payments for generating and steering prescriptions of compounded drugs to Valley View Drugs, Inc., a pharmacy located in La Mirada. As set forth in plea agreements that have been filed in court, Griffith and Glover owned and operated Western Medical Solutions, a “marketing” company that paid non-employee “marketers” to generate compounded drug prescription referrals for Valley View. Commission payments to “marketers” for prescription referrals were based on a percentage of the amount insurance companies reimbursed Valley View. Health insurers ultimately reimbursed Valley View $13,860,083 for prescriptions generated by WMS-affiliated marketers. In turn, Valley View paid WMS approximately $7,622,864 for the prescription referrals. The case is being handled by Assistant United States Attorney Ashwin Janakiram.
  • Xiao “Kimi” Gudmundsen, a licensed acupuncturist and the owner of Healthy Life Acupuncture Center, Inc., which operated at two sites in Los Angeles and Riverside, was charged on June 22, with eight counts of health care fraud and three counts of money laundering. The charges arise from allegations that Gudmundsen recruited Amtrak employees to visit Healthy Life and then, among other things, billed the Amtrak health care plan for acupuncture and other services that were not actually provided. The indictment also charges that Gudmundsen laundered payments received from Amtrak for the false bills through various accounts, including accounts held in the names of relatives. Also charged in the indictment are Suzana Cortez, a Healthy Life employee (who faces five counts health care fraud) and Gladys Perez, an Amtrak employee (who faces two counts of health care fraud). This case is being handled by Assistant United States Attorney Poonam Kumar.
  • James Chen pleaded guilty on June 19 to a health care fraud charge related to his pharmacy processing and billing TRICARE for approximately $62 million for fraudulent prescriptions for compounded medications after Chen paid more than 50 percent in referral fees to marketers. The case is being handled by Assistant United States Attorneys Mark Aveis, Paul Stern and Cassie Palmer.

Indictments and criminal informations contain allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed to be innocent until and unless proven guilty in court.

The cases from the Central District of California are the result of investigations conducted by the United States Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General; the Federal Bureau of Investigation; the Defense Criminal Investigative Service; the Drug Enforcement Administration; IRS Criminal Investigation; the Office of Personnel Management, Office of Inspector General; the Veterans Administration, Office of the Inspector General; the Department of Labor – Employee Benefits Security Administration; the California Department of Insurance, Fraud Division; the United States Postal Service, Office of the Inspector General; Amtrak’s Office of the Inspector General; the California Board of Pharmacy; California’s Department of Health Care Services; and the California Department of Justice.

The local cases were filed by Assistant United States Attorneys and Trial Attorneys with the Justice Department’s Medicare Fraud Strike Force. The 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.