Middleman Who Lied About Being an Agent of a Foreign Official Sentenced to 3 ½ Years in Prison for Role in Foreign Bribery Scheme Involving $800 Million International Real Estate Deal

Thursday, October 5, 2017

The middleman in a foreign bribery scheme who falsely held himself out as an agent of a foreign official was sentenced today to 42 months in prison for each count, to run concurrently, for his role in a scheme to bribe a foreign official in the Middle East to land a real estate deal, and to defrauding his co-schemers.

Acting Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Blanco of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Acting U.S. Attorney Joon H. Kim of the Southern District of New York and Assistant Director in Charge William F. Sweeney Jr. of the FBI’s New York Field Office made the announcement.

Malcom Harris, 53, of New York City, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Edgardo Ramos of the Southern District of New York.  Harris pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud and one count of money laundering on June 21.

According to admissions made in connection with Harris’s plea, Harris participated in a corrupt scheme to pay bribes to a foreign official in a country in the Middle East in order to facilitate the sale by South Korean construction company Keangnam Enterprises Co., Ltd., (Keangnam) of a commercial building known as Landmark 72 in Hanoi, Vietnam, to the Middle Eastern country’s sovereign wealth fund.  According to the indictment, the building sale was valued at $800 million, and purported bribe would total $2.5 million.

In connection with his guilty plea, Harris admitted that, from on or about March 2013 to on or about March 2015, he wrongfully obtained $500,000 from his co-defendants by falsely holding himself out as an agent of a foreign official in text messages and emails.  Harris admitted directing the $500,000 to be deposited into an account in the name of Muse Creative Consulting, but which Harris actually controlled.  Thereafter, Harris used the illegally obtained money to engage in transactions exceeding $10,000, he admitted.

Harris was charged in a December 2016 indictment along with codefendants Joo Hyun Bahn aka Dennis Bahn (Bahn) and Ban Ki Sang (Ban).  According to the indictment, during this time, Ban was a senior executive at Keangnam, and allegedly convinced Keangnam to hire his son Bahn, who worked as a broker at a commercial real estate firm in Manhattan, to secure an investor for Landmark 72.

Bahn and Ban are awaiting trial.  The charges and allegations contained in an indictment are only accusations.  The defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

The FBI’s International Corruption Squad in New York City investigated the case.  In 2015, the FBI formed International Corruption Squads across the country to address national and international implications of foreign corruption.  Trial Attorney Dennis R. Kihm of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel S. Noble of the Southern District of New York are prosecuting the case.  The Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs also provided substantial assistance in this matter.

The Fraud Section is responsible for investigating and prosecuting all FCPA matters.  Additional information about the Justice Department’s FCPA enforcement efforts can be found at www.justice.gov/criminal-fraud/foreign-corrupt-practices-act.

Real Estate Investor Sentenced to 14 Months in Prison for Rigging Bids at Northern California Public Foreclosure Auctions

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

A real estate investor was sentenced today for his role in a conspiracy to rig bids at public real estate foreclosure auctions in Northern California, the Department of Justice announced.

Brian McKinzie was charged on June 30, 2011, in an indictment returned by a federal grand jury in the Northern District of California. McKinzie pleaded guilty on Oct. 26, 2016, to two counts of bid rigging at real-estate foreclosure auctions in Alameda and Contra Costa County. Today, McKinzie was sentenced to serve 14 months in prison and to serve three years of supervised release. In addition to his term of imprisonment, McKinzie was ordered to pay a criminal fine of $10,000 and $652,824.43 in restitution.

“Today’s sentence reflects the seriousness of offenses that subvert the competitive process,” said Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division.  “The Division remains firm in its resolve to seek prison terms for individuals who commit antitrust crimes.”  

Between November 2008 and January 2011, McKinzie and other bidders at the auctions conspired not to bid against one another for selected properties, instead designating a winning bidder to win the property at the auction. The members of the conspiracy then held second, private auctions, known as “rounds,” to award the properties to members of the conspiracy and determine payoffs for other conspirators who had agreed not to bid against each other at the public auctions. The private auctions often took place at or near the courthouse steps where the public auctions were held.

When real estate properties are sold at public auctions, the proceeds are used to pay off the mortgage and other debt attached to the property, with the remaining proceeds, if any, paid to the homeowner.

The sentence is a result of the division’s ongoing investigation into bid rigging at public real estate foreclosure auctions in California’s San Francisco, San Mateo, Alameda and Contra Costa counties. These investigations are being conducted by the Antitrust Division’s San Francisco Office and the FBI’s San Francisco Office.

Anyone with information concerning bid rigging or fraud related to public real estate foreclosure auctions should contact the Antitrust Division’s San Francisco Office at 415-934-5300 or call the FBI tip line at 415-553-7400.

Doctor Pleads Guilty to Health Care Fraud Conspiracy for Role in $19 Million Detroit Area Medicare Fraud Scheme

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

A physician pleaded guilty today to conspiracy to commit health care fraud for his role in an approximately $19 million Medicare fraud scheme involving three Detroit area providers.

Acting Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Blanco of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Acting U.S. Attorney Daniel L. Lemisch of the Eastern District of Michigan, Special Agent in Charge David P. Gelios of the FBI’s Detroit Division, Special Agent in Charge Lamont Pugh III of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General’s (HHS-OIG) Chicago Regional Office and Special Agent in Charge Manny Muriel of Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI) made the announcement.

Abdul Haq, 72, of Ypsilanti, Michigan, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud before U.S. District Judge Denise Page Hood of the Eastern District of Michigan.  Sentencing has been scheduled for May 29, 2018 before Judge Hood.

As part of his guilty plea, Haq admitted that he conspired with the owner of the Tri-County Network, Mashiyat Rashid, and his co-defendants and others to prescribe medically unnecessary controlled substances, including Oxycodone, Hydrocodone and Opana, to Medicare beneficiaries, many of whom were addicted to narcotics.  He further admitted that in furtherance of the conspiracy, Rashid and others also directed physicians, including Haq and others, to require Medicare beneficiaries to undergo medically unnecessary facet joint injections if the beneficiary wished to obtain prescriptions for controlled substances.

In furtherance of the conspiracy, Haq and others referred Medicare beneficiaries to specific third party home health agencies, laboratories and diagnostic providers even though those referrals were medically unnecessary, he admitted.  Haq also served as the straw owner of various pain clinics owned and/or controlled by Rashid, and submitted false and fraudulent enrollment materials to Medicare that failed to disclose the ownership interest of Rashid, as it was illegal for Rashid – a non-physician – to own medical clinics under Michigan law.  In total, Haq admitted that he submitted or caused the submission of approximately $19,322,846.60 in false and fraudulent claims to Medicare.

Haq was charged along with Mashiyat Rashid, 37, of West Bloomfield, Michigan; Yasser Mozeb, 35, of Madison Heights, Michigan; Spilios Pappas, 61, of Monclova, Ohio; Joseph Betro, 57, of Novi, Michigan; Tariq Omar, 61, of West Bloomfield, Michigan; and Mohammed Zahoor, 51 of Novi, Michigan, in an indictment unsealed on July 6.  Rashid, Mozeb, Pappas, Betro, Omar and Zahoor are awaiting trial.

An indictment is merely an allegation and all defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

This case was investigated by the FBI, HHS-OIG and IRS-CI.  Trial Attorney Jacob Foster 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 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.

Western New York Contractors and Two Owners to Pay More Than $3 Million to Settle False Claims Act Allegations

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Alden, New York-based contractors, Zoladz Construction Company Inc. (ZCCI), Arsenal Contracting LLC (Arsenal), and Alliance Contracting LLC (Alliance), along with two owners, John Zoladz of Darien, New York, and David Lyons of Grand Island, New York, have agreed to pay the United States more than $3 million to settle allegations that they violated the False Claims Act by improperly obtaining federal set-aside contracts designated for service-disabled veteran-owned (SDVO) small businesses, the Justice Department announced today.    

“Contracts are set aside for service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses so to afford veterans with service-connected disabilities the opportunity to participate in federal contracting and gain valuable experience to help them compete for future economic opportunities,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Chad A. Readler of the Justice Department’s Civil Division.  “Every time an ineligible contractor knowingly pursues and obtains such set-aside contracts, they are cheating American taxpayers at the expense of service-disabled veterans.”

To qualify as a SDVO small business, a service-disabled veteran must own and control the company.  The United States alleged that Zoladz recruited a service-disabled veteran to serve as a figurehead for Arsenal, which purported to be a legitimate SDVO small business but which was, in fact, managed and controlled by Zoladz and Lyons, neither of whom is a service-disabled veteran.  The United States alleged that Arsenal was a sham company that had scant employees of its own and instead relied on Alliance and ZCCI employees to function.  After receiving numerous SDVO small business contracts, Arsenal is alleged to have subcontracted nearly all of the work under the contracts to Alliance, which was owned by Zoladz and Lyons, and ZCCI, which was owned by Zoladz.  Neither Alliance nor ZCCI were eligible to participate in SDVO small business contracting programs.  Zoladz and Lyons are alleged to have carried out their scheme by, among other things, making or causing false statements to be made to the U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) regarding Arsenal’s eligibility to participate in the SDVO small business contracting program and the company’s compliance with SDVO small business requirements.

“Detecting and discontinuing fraud, waste, and abuse committed by those who do business with the government remains a core function performed in this Office,” said Acting U.S. Attorney James P. Kennedy, Jr. for the Western District of New York. “That function, however, takes on additional significance when the target of the fraud is a program designed for the benefit of the heroes among us—our disabled veterans.  Although this investigation did not uncover sufficient evidence to establish criminal liability by these entities and individuals, the multi-million dollar civil judgment ensures that those involved pay a heavy price for their decision to divert to themselves resources intended for the benefit of those who have made supreme sacrifices on behalf of all.”

“This settlement demonstrates the commitment of the Department of Veterans Affairs, Office of Inspector General, the Department of Justice, and other law enforcement agencies to aggressively pursue individuals and companies that misrepresent themselves as service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses and deny legitimate disabled veterans the opportunity to obtain VA set-aside contracts,” said Inspector General, Michael J. Missal of U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Office of Inspector General (OIG).  “The VA OIG will continue to work diligently to protect the integrity of this important program, which is designed to aid disabled veterans.  I also want to thank the U.S. Attorney’s Office and our law enforcement partners in this effort.”

“The contracting companies and principals allowed greed to corrupt a federal process intended to benefit service-disabled, veteran-owned small businesses,” said Special Agent in Charge Adam S. Cohen of FBI Buffalo Field Office. “The FBI and our partners will continue to identify and investigate companies and individuals who target these types of programs for personal gain.”

The settlement resolves a lawsuit filed under the 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 civil lawsuit was filed in the Western District of New York and is captioned United States ex rel. Western New York Foundation for Fair Contracting, Inc. v. Arsenal Contracting, LLC, et al., Case No. 11-CV-0821(S) (W.D.N.Y.).  As part of today’s resolution, the whistleblower will receive $450,000.

“This case is yet another example of the tremendous results achieved through the joint efforts of the Small Business Administration (SBA), the Department of Justice, and partner agencies to uncover and forcefully respond to fraud in Federal Government contracting programs, such as the Service Disabled Veteran-Owned Program in this case,” said Christopher M. Pilkerton, General Counsel of the SBA.  “Identifying and aggressively pursuing instances of civil fraud by participants in these procurement programs is one of SBA’s top priorities.”

“Providing false statements to gain access to federal contracts set aside for service-disabled veterans denies the government opportunities to meet its abiding commitment to our nation’s veterans,” said Acting SBA Inspector General Hannibal “Mike” Ware.  “The SBA’s Office of the Inspector General is committed to bringing those that lie to gain access to SBA’s preferential contracting programs to justice.  I want to thank the Department of Justice for its leadership and dedication to serving justice.”

“There is an obvious need and reason for service-disabled, veteran-owned small businesses in the government contracting process,” said Director Frank Robey of the Army Criminal Investigation Command (CID), Major Procurement Fraud Unit.  “Special Agents from Army CID will continue to work closely with our law enforcement partners to make every contribution possible to bring persons to justice who violate that process.”

This matter was investigated by the Civil Division’s Commercial Litigation Branch, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of New York, the FBI, the VA’s Office of Inspector General, the SBA’s Office of Inspector General, and Army CID.

The claims resolved by the settlement are allegations only, and there has been no determination of liability.

CCC’s: It Is Time For An Antitrust Whistleblower Statute–Part 2

Objections to an Antitrust Whistleblower Statute

The idea of an antitrust whistleblower is not new, but it has never gained much traction in the past.  There have been significant objections, or at least disinterest—particularly from the Department of Justice.  The mood seemed to be “Our cup runneth over with Amnesty applications so let’s not screw this thing up.”  But, perhaps times have changed.  Our analysis is that the objections to a whistleblower statute were either superficial, or when having merit, still not enough to outweigh the benefits of a whistleblower statute.

Before considering some of the possible downside to an antitrust whistleblower statute, a little explanation of what we have in mind may be helpful.  We propose an SEC-style whistleblower statue where an informant can be awarded a level of compensation (bounty) when information of illegality leads to charges and recovery by the SEC. This is different than a False Claims Act qui tam case where a Relator brings a case in the name of the government alleging the government has been defrauded.  In fact, an antitrust whistleblower statute is needed because a qui tam case is not generally available in price-fixing matters since it is the private sector, not the government that has been harmed.

Concerns About an Antitrust Whistleblower statute

 It’s worth noting that the Criminal Antitrust Anti-Retaliation Act has been passed twice unanimously by the Senate in the last two Congresses and is up for vote again on the Senate floor.  It will no doubt pass—most likely again unanimously.  There is agreement that a person who reports criminal antitrust activity should not face retaliation in the workplace. (Despite the consensus, the House has failed to take up this bill the last two times it has passed the Senate).  There is controversy, however, about whether a whistleblower should be eligible for some type of bounty if the information leads to successful cartel prosecution and the imposition of fines.

In 2011, the General Accounting Office Published a report on Criminal Cartel Enforcement that reported stakeholders’ views on a possible antitrust whistleblower statute (here).  This is a summary of the GAO findings:

There was no consensus among key stakeholders GAO interviewed–antitrust plaintiffs’ and defense attorneys, among others–regarding the addition of a whistleblower reward, but they widely supported adding antiretaliatory protection. Nine of 21 key stakeholders stated that adding a whistleblower reward in the form of a bounty could result in greater cartel detection and deterrence, but 11 of 21 noted that such rewards could hinder DOJ’s enforcement program. Currently, whistleblowers who report criminal antitrust violations lack a civil remedy if they experience retaliation, such as being fired, so they may be hesitant to report criminal wrongdoing, and past reported cases suggest retaliation occurs in this type of situation. All 16 key stakeholders who had a position on the issue generally supported the addition of a civil whistleblower protection though senior DOJ Antitrust Division officials stated that they neither support nor oppose the idea.

The GAO report is several years old and it may be that positions have been reevaluated.  For example, I think the Antitrust Division today would support the anti-retaliation measures in whistleblower statute.  But below is an analysis of some of the objections raised to making a bounty available to an antitrust whistleblower.

Whistleblower Credibility

 The Antitrust Division’s principal concern was that jurors may not believe a witness who stands to benefit financially from successful enforcement action against those he implicated.  GAO Report p. 39.  But, a whistleblower is highly unlikely to ever be a principle witness at a trial.  An antitrust crime typically involves many culpable actors.  A whistleblower would generally “get the ball rolling” and provide evidence that will turn other witnesses, and allow subpoenas and search warrants from target companies.  Further, a single whistleblower who might receive a financial reward seems no less credible than witnesses from an amnesty company where everyone—including the highest-ranking culpable executives—will have escaped criminal prosecution.  Also, criminal antitrust trials are relatively rare—almost all cases are resolved by pleas.  Finally, it is not logical to worry about the credibility of a witness you would otherwise not even know about absent a whistleblower statute.

A Whistleblower Reward Could Result in Claims That Do Not Lead to Criminal Prosecution: 

 There was some fear expressed in the GAO report that would-be whistleblowers would fabricate information in order to conjure up a cartel in the hopes of collecting a reward.  GAO Report p. 40.  Anything is possible, but the Antitrust Division folks are pretty savvy and have standards for opening grand jury investigations.  Moreover, the possibility of fabricated charges exists today with a company applying for leniency in the hopes of knee-capping competitors who would have to deal with a criminal cartel investigation.  The reality is a “false accusation” simply wouldn’t be corroborated by anyone else and could land the accuser in jail for making a false statement.

In a similar vane, concern was expressed that a whistleblower statute may result in a deluge of complaints to the Antitrust Division that would take additional resources to sift through.  This seems like a good problem to have.  When Ms. Justice and I were at the Division, we received a fair number of complaints that amounted to no more than oligopoly pricing.  It did not take too much time to ask: “What else ya got?”

* * * * * Click Here for the Rest of the Story * * * * *

Owner of Two New York Medical Clinics Sentenced to 84 Months for Her Role in $55 Million Health Care Fraud Scheme

Friday, September 15, 2017

The owner of two Brooklyn, New York, medical clinics was sentenced today to 84 months in prison for her role in a $55 million health care fraud scheme.

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, 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, Special Agent in Charge James D. Robnett of the IRS Criminal Investigation’s (IRS-CI) New York Field Office and Inspector General Dennis Rosen of the New York State Office of the Medicaid Inspector General (OMIG) made the announcement.

Valentina Kovalienko, 47, of Brooklyn, and the owner of Prime Care on the Bay LLC and Bensonhurst Mega Medical Care P.C., was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Roslynn R. Mauskopf of the Eastern District of New York, who also ordered Kovalienko to forfeit $29,336,497. Kovalienko pleaded guilty in October 2015 to one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering.

As part of her guilty plea, Kovalienko acknowledged that her co-conspirators paid cash kickbacks to patients to induce them to attend her two clinics.  Kovalienko also admitted that she submitted false and fraudulent claims to Medicare and Medicaid for services that were induced by prohibited kickback payments to patients or that were unlawfully rendered by unlicensed staff.  Kovalienko also wrote checks from the clinics’ bank accounts to third-party companies, which purported to provide services to the clinics, but which in fact were not providing services, and the payments were instead used to generate the cash needed to pay the illegal kickbacks to patients, she admitted.

Twenty other individuals have pleaded guilty in connection with this case, including the former medical directors of Prime Care on the Bay LLC and Bensonhurst Mega Medical Care P.C., six physical and occupational therapists, three ambulette drivers, the owner of several of the sham companies used to launder the money and a former patient who received illegal kickbacks.

HHS-OIG, IRS-CI and OMIG 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.  Acting Assistant Chief A. Brendan Stewart of the Fraud Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney F. Turner Buford of the Eastern District of New York, formerly a Fraud Section trial attorney, are prosecuting the case.

The Criminal Division’s 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 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.

New Orleans Woman Convicted of Conspiracy, Identity Theft and False Statement Charges for Role in $2.1 Million Medicare Kickback Scheme

Thursday, September 14, 2017

On Tuesday, a federal jury found a New Orleans woman guilty of conspiracy, identity theft and false statements charges for her role in an approximately $2.1 million Medicare kickback scheme.

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 C.J. Porter of the Office of Inspector General – Health and Human Services Dallas Field Office and Special Agent in Charge Jeff Sallet of the FBI’s New Orleans Field Office made the announcement.

After a two-day trial, Kim Ricard, age 51, of New Orleans, was convicted of one count of conspiracy to pay and receive kickbacks in connection with Medicare beneficiaries.  In addition, Ricard was convicted of three counts of accepting kickbacks, along with three counts of identity theft and one count of making false statements to federal agents.  Sentencing has been scheduled for December 7, before U.S. District Judge Jane Milazzo of the Eastern District of Louisiana, who presided over the trial.

According to evidence presented at trial, from 2008 to 2013, Ricard and others engaged in a scheme to refer mentally ill Medicare patients to home health agencies in and around New Orleans, in exchange for kickbacks.  The evidence further established that Ricard unlawfully used the Medicare identification information of three Medicare beneficiaries in connection with the scheme. Ricard then lied to investigators, the evidence showed.

As a result of the scheme, Ricard’s co-conspirator caused Medicare to pay over $2.1 million based on those illegally-obtained referrals

One other defendant was charged in this matter. Milton Diaz, 65, of Harvey, Louisiana, pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing.

This case was investigated by the Office of Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services, and the FBI.  Trial Attorneys Claire Yan and Kate Payerle of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section are prosecuting the case.

The Criminal Division’s 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 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.

Four U.S. Attorneys’ Offices in Districts Affected By Hurricane Irma Establish Task Forces in Combating Disaster Fraud and Urge the Public to Be Vigilant in Reporting Suspected Fraud

Thursday, September 14, 2017

The National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) along with U.S. Attorneys’ Offices in the District of Puerto RicoSouthern District of FloridaMiddle District of Florida and Northern District of Florida announced the formation of task forces comprised of local, state and federal agencies in their respective areas to combat Hurricane Irma related illegal activity. The NCDF and U.S. Attorneys in those districts urge residents and businesses to immediately report suspected fraudulent activity relating to recovery and cleanup operations, fake charities claiming to be providing relief for victims, individuals submitting false claims for disaster relief and any other disaster fraud related activity.

The U.S. Department of Justice established the National Center for Disaster Fraud to investigate, prosecute, and deter fraud in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, when billions of dollars in federal disaster relief poured into the Gulf Coast region. Its mission has expanded to include suspected fraud from any natural or manmade disaster. More than 30 federal, state, and local agencies participate in the National Center for Disaster Fraud, which allows the center to act as a centralized clearinghouse of information related to disaster relief fraud.

While compassion, assistance, and solidarity are generally prevalent in the aftermath of natural disasters, unscrupulous individuals and organizations also use these tragic events to take advantage of those in need. In the wake of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, the NCDF has already received more than 400 complaints. Examples of illegal activity being reported to the NCDF and law enforcement include:

  • Impersonation of federal law enforcement officials;
  • Identity theft;
  • Fraudulent submission of claims to insurance companies and the federal government;
  • Fraudulent activity related to solicitations for donations and charitable giving;
  • Fraudulent activity related to individuals and organizations promising high investment returns from profits from recovery and cleanup efforts;
  • Price gouging;
  • Theft, looting, and other violent crime

“Unfortunately, criminals can exploit disasters, such as Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, for their own gain by sending fraudulent communications through email or social media and by creating phony websites designed to solicit contributions,” said Acting Executive Director Corey R. Amundson of the National Center for Disaster Fraud. “Once the NCDF receives a complaint, it routes the complaints to the appropriate federal, state, or local law enforcement agency in the appropriate jurisdiction. In the process, we are able to de-conflict and identify trends, national schemes, and offenders operating in multi-jurisdictions. The Justice Department will aggressively pursue those who commit disaster fraud.”

“Our efforts are directed at enforcing a zero tolerance policy,” said U.S. Attorney Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez for the District of Puerto Rico. “In the midst of the distress and losses caused by Hurricane Irma and the attending need for recovery and rebuilding, there can be no place for fraud and abuse.”

“As our South Florida community recovers from Hurricane Irma, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida and our law enforcement partners stand ready to investigate and prosecute in federal court anyone who seeks to re-victimize, defraud or exploit the individuals and businesses in need,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Benjamin G. Greenberg for the Southern District of Florida. “Our united enforcement front will work hard to combat criminal activity, including fraud schemes associated with the hurricane’s devastation. Our mission is to ensure that federal, state and local programs, as well as reputable public and charitable assistance initiatives reach those struck by the impact of our recent natural disaster and are not fraudulently diverted to the criminals’ pockets.”

“We will aggressively investigate and prosecute anyone who seeks to defraud or exploit the federal assistance programs established to help individuals, families, or businesses that have lost so much as a result of Hurricane Irma,” said Acting U.S. Attorney W. Stephen Muldrow for the Middle District of Florida. “Our Office will continue to protect the rights of our honest citizens affected by this disaster and ensure that they receive the necessary public and charitable assistance they deserve. If you suspect any fraud, we urge you to call the NCDF Hotline. Our efforts to combat fraud associated with Hurricane Irma will supplement the outstanding and ongoing efforts by the State of Florida and Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi.”

We do not tolerate fraud,” said U.S. Attorney Christopher P. Canova for the Northern District of Florida. “Individuals, families, and businesses have suffered, and will continue to suffer, tremendous losses. Emergency funds are needed to help them get back on their feet. Dozens of agencies, investigators, and prosecutors are ready to respond to credible allegations of fraud and abuse. If you are aware of fraud, we urge you to call the National Disaster Fraud Hotline.

Members of the public who suspect fraud, waste, abuse, or allegations of mismanagement involving disaster relief operations, or believe they have been the victim of fraud from a person or organization soliciting relief funds on behalf of disaster victims, should contact the National Disaster Fraud Hotline toll free at (866) 720-5721. The telephone line is staffed by a live operator 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You can also fax information to the Center at (225) 334-4707, or email it to disaster@leo.gov(link sends e-mail).

Members of the public are reminded to apply a critical eye and do their due diligence before giving contributions to anyone soliciting donations on behalf of disaster victims. Solicitations can originate from e-mails, websites, door-to-door collections, mailings and telephone calls, and similar methods. Learn more about the NCDF at www.justice.gov/disaster-fraud. Tips for the public on how to avoid being victimized of fraud are at https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/tips-avoiding-fraudulent-charitable-contribution-schemes.

New York Hospital Operator Agrees to Pay $4 Million to Settle Alleged False Claims Act Violations Arising from Improper Payments to Physicians

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

MediSys Health Network Inc., which owns and operates Jamaica Hospital Medical Center and Flushing Hospital and Medical Center, two hospitals in Queens, New York, has agreed to pay $4 million to settle allegations that it violated the False Claims Act by engaging in improper financial relationships with referring physicians, the Justice Department announced today.

The settlement resolves allegations that the defendants submitted false claims to the Medicare program for services rendered to patients referred by physicians with whom the defendants had improper financial relationships. These relationships took the form of compensation and office lease arrangements that did not comply with the requirements of the Stark Law, which restricts the financial relationships that hospitals may have with doctors who refer patients to them.

“This recovery should help to deter other health care providers from entering into improper financial relationships with physicians that can taint the physicians’ medical judgment, to the detriment of patients and taxpayers,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Chad A. Readler of the Justice Department’s Civil Division.

The lawsuit was filed by Dr. Satish Deshpande under the qui tam, or whistleblower, provisions of the False Claims Act. Under the Act, private citizens can bring suit on behalf of the United States and share in any recovery. Dr. Deshpande will receive $600,000 as his share of the recovery.

“Health care providers who enter into improper financial relations with referring physicians compromise the referral process and encourage over-utilization of services, to the potential detriment of both patients and taxpayers,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Bridget M. Rohde for the Eastern District of New York. “We will hold health care providers accountable for their violations of federal law.”

“When hospital operators provide financial incentives to doctors for patient referrals, individuals rightfully wonder whose best interests are being served,” said Special Agent in Charge Scott J. Lampert for U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG). “We will continue to investigate such entities who fraudulently bill government health programs.”

The case, United States ex rel. Deshpande, et al. v. The Jamaica Hospital Medical Center, et al., Case No. 13-cv-4030 (E.D.N.Y.), was handled by Senior Trial Counsel David T. Cohen of the Civil Division’s Commercial Litigation Branch, Assistant U.S. Attorney Kenneth M. Abell of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York and Associate Counsel David Fuchs from HHS-OIG. The claims settled by this agreement are allegations only, and there has been no determination of liability.

California Internet Sales Company President Sentenced to Prison for Embezzlement and False Tax Returns

Monday, September 11, 2017

A Manhattan Beach, California resident was sentenced to nine months in prison for wire fraud and filing false tax returns, announced Acting Deputy Assistant Attorney General Stuart M. Goldberg of the Justice Department’s Tax Division and Acting U.S. Attorney Alana W. Robinson for the Southern District of California.

According to the evidence presented at trial, James Miller, a California attorney, was the president and managing partner of MWRC Internet Sales LLC, an online sales company. As part of his duties, Miller had check signing authority for the company’s business bank account. From January 2009 through October 2012, Miller wrote unauthorized checks to himself from MWRC’s account, embezzling more than $300,000. Miller used this money to pay for personal expenses and did not report it on his individual tax returns for 2009 through 2012, causing a tax loss of approximately $58,000.

In addition to the term of prison imposed, U.S. District Judge George Wu ordered Miller to serve two years of supervised release and to pay $64,329 in restitution to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

Acting Deputy Assistant Attorney General Goldberg and Acting U.S. Attorney Robinson commended special agents of FBI and IRS Criminal Investigation, who conducted the investigation, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Rebecca Kanter and Trial Attorney Benjamin Weir of the Tax Division, who prosecuted the case.

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