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.

CCC’s: Antitrust Division DAAG Delivers Remarks at International Conference

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The Antitrust Division’s Deputy Assistant Attorney General for International Affairs, Roger Alford delivered a speech on October 3, 2017 in San Paolo, Brazil. (here).  There were no groundbreaking announcements in the speech, but since it was the first delivered since Makan Delrahim took over as head of the Antitrust Division, I thought it might be of interest.

There were two aspects of the talk worth noting.  First, Mr. Alford highlighted the Division’s longstanding focus on holding individuals accountable:

As my colleagues at the Antitrust Division have explained before, “[h]olding companies accountable and assessing large fines, alone, are not the only means, or even the most effective way, to accomplish our goal of deterring and ending cartels. Individuals commit the crimes for which corporate offenders pay. Every corporate crime involves individual wrongdoing.” For that reason, we at the Antitrust Division have a long history of holding individuals accountable for antitrust crimes, and we have consistently touted prison time for individuals as the single most effective deterrent to criminal collusion.

The other item that caught my eye in the speech was the Mr. Alford’s reference to two Antitrust Division recent prosecutions:

  • In June of this year, Yuval Marshak was sentenced to 30 months in prison for participating in a scheme to defraud the U.S. Department of Defense.
  • In 2016, we tried and obtained the conviction of John Bennett for fraud against the United States as a result of a kickback scheme in the procurement of environmental clean-up services. He was ultimately sentenced to five years in prison.

These examples of “fraud prosecutions” are interesting because there is sometimes an internal debate in the Antitrust Division about whether only Sherman Act, (i.e. price fixing or bid rigging) charges should be brought or whether the Division has a broader mandate to prosecute what is sometimes called “corruption of the bidding process.” A “corruption of the bidding process” example would be bribing a procurement official to tailor bid specifications to favor one company.  In a hybrid case, there may be both a bribe of a procurement official and collusion among the favored bidders.

At times, investigation and prosecution of collusion on public contracts such as defense, roads, and schools has been a priority for the Division.  Public contracts are typically where collusion and bribery turn up–and jail sentences tend to be long.  The Division has limited resources, however, so when international cartels dominate, there may be few resources left to devote to public contracts.

The interesting thing about public contract investigations, is that the Division has some ability to be proactive in generating new investigations (as opposed to being reactive to leads/leniencies that come into the Division.)  When resources are available, the Division will often beat the bushes talking to federal agents and procurement officials looking for tips on possible worthwhile investigations.  It will be worth watching to see if there is any noticeable shift in emphasis under the new Antitrust Division leadership.

Thanks for reading.

California Resident Sentenced for Conspiracy to Commit Healthcare Fraud

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Acting U.S. Attorney Duane A. Evans announced that SUNYUP KIM, age 41, of Granada Hills, CA, was sentenced today after previously pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit healthcare fraud.

U.S. District Judge Eldon E. Fallon sentenced KIM to 1 year and 1 day in prison along with $93,927 in restitution.

On June 11, 2015, KIM was indicted along with three other defendants in an 8-count indictment charging approximately $38 million in Medicare fraud.

According to court documents, the $38 million fraud scheme centering on the distribution of “talking glucose meters” that were not medically necessary and were often not even requested. KIM, along with the other 3 defendants, operated Care Concepts, LLC, which was based in Metairie, and Choice Home Medical Equipment and Supplies (Choice), which was based in Chatsworth, California. KIM and the other 3 defendants, paid kickbacks to workers at call centers in California and South Carolina, from which operators would cold-call Medicare recipients to convince them to accept talking glucose meters and related supplies. From 2007 through 2015, KIM and the other 3 defendants caused thousands of claims to be submitted to Medicare through Care Concepts and Choice, virtually all of which were fraudulent.

Acting U.S. Attorney Evans praised the work of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Office of Inspector General for the United States Department of Health and Human Services in investigating this matter. Assistant U. S. Attorneys Patrice Harris Sullivan and Jordan Ginsberg were in charge of the prosecution.

Galena Biopharma Inc. to Pay More Than $7.55 Million to Resolve Alleged False Claims Related to Opioid Drug

Friday, September 8, 2017

Galena Biopharma Inc. (Galena) will pay more than $7.55 million to resolve allegations under the civil False Claims Act that it paid kickbacks to doctors to induce them to prescribe its fentanyl-based drug Abstral, the Department of Justice announced today.

“Given the dangers associated with opioids such as Abstral, it is imperative that prescriptions be based on a patient’s medical need rather than a doctor’s financial interests,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Chad A. Readler of the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “The Department of Justice intends to vigorously pursue those who offer and receive illegal inducements that undermine the integrity of government health care programs.”

The conduct alleged by the government and resolved by today’s settlement was egregious because it incentivized doctors to over-prescribe highly addictive opioids,” said Acting U.S. Attorney William E. Fitzpatrick for the District of New Jersey. “This settlement constitutes another example of the Department of Justice’s ongoing efforts to battle the opioid epidemic on every front.

The United States contends that Galena paid multiple types of kickbacks to induce doctors to prescribe Abstral, including providing more than 85 free meals to doctors and staff from a single, high-prescribing practice; paying doctors $5,000, and speakers $6,000, plus expenses, to attend an “advisory board” that was partly planned, and attended, by Galena sales team members and paying approximately $92,000 to a physician-owned pharmacy under a performance-based rebate agreement to induce the owners to prescribe Abstral. The United States also contends that Galena paid doctors to refer patients to the company’s RELIEF patient registry study, which was nominally designed to collect data on patient experiences with Abstral, but acted as a means to induce the doctors to prescribe Abstral. Galena has not marketed any pharmaceutical drug since the end of 2015.

Two of the doctors who received remuneration from Galena were tried, convicted and later sentenced to prison in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Alabama following a jury trial of, among other counts, offenses relating to their prescriptions of Abstral. Galena cooperated in that prosecution.

The settlement resolves a lawsuit filed by relator Lynne Dougherty under the whistleblower provisions of the False Claims Act, which permit private parties to file suit on behalf of the United States and obtain a portion of the government’s recovery. As part of today’s resolution, Ms. Dougherty will receive more than $1.2 million. The matter remains under seal as to allegations against entities other than Galena.

The settlement is the result of a coordinated effort by the Civil Division’s Commercial Litigation Branch and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey, with assistance from the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Counsel to the Inspector General, and the Food and Drug Administration Office of Criminal Investigations’ Metro Washington Field Office.

The claims settled by this agreement are allegations only; there have been no admissions of liability by Galena.

United States Recovers More Than $12 Million In False Claims Act Settlements For Alleged Kickback Scheme

Monday, August 21, 2017

United States will also pursue claims against Precision Lens, Paul Ehlen and Dr. Jitendra Swarup

Acting United States Attorney Gregory G. Brooker today announced that Sightpath Medical, Inc. (n/k/a Sightpath Medical, LLC) (“Sightpath”), TLC Vision Corporation (n/k/a TLC Vision (USA, LLC)) (“TLC”) (collectively the “Sightpath Entities”) and their former CEO, JAMES TIFFANY, have agreed to pay more than $12 million to the United States to resolve kickback allegations under the False Claims Act (“FCA”). The United States also intervened in an underlying lawsuit against the Cameron-Ehlen Group, Inc. d/b/a Precision Lens (“Precision Lens”), Precision Lens’ owner PAUL EHLEN, and JITENDRA SWARUP.

“Medicare beneficiaries depend on their physicians to make decisions based on sound medical judgment,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Chad Blumenfield. “Our office will take decisive action to address allegations that medical providers are receiving improper financial benefits that could influence medical decision making. We are grateful to our law enforcement partners for their excellent work in investigating this matter.”

“This settlement is an outstanding result and represents the third major False Claims Act case successfully handled by this Office in the last three months. These types of cases remain a top priority of our Office, I applaud the hard work and dedication of the Civil Frauds Unit and the agencies involved in the case,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Gregory Brooker.

“The FBI together with our law enforcement partners aggressively investigate companies and individuals who engage in kickback schemes at the expense of Medicare and other federal health care programs,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Richard T. Thornton of the Minneapolis Division. “Those who seek to exploit the nation’s health care system through fraud will be held accountable.”

According to the complaint, brought by a whistleblower, Sightpath and Precision Lens supply intraocular lenses, as well as ophthalmic surgical equipment and services to medical facilities. These products and services are used by ophthalmologists in connection with eye surgeries, including cataract surgeries performed in Ambulatory Surgical Centers and hospitals for which federal payers, such as Medicare, provide reimbursements. The complaint alleges that Precision Lens, EHLEN and the Sightpath Entities paid kickbacks to physicians in various forms, including travel, entertainment and improper consulting agreements. The complaint identifies multiple examples of trips including luxury skiing vacations and high-end fishing, golfing and hunting trips. The complaint also alleges that these various items of value were provided in order to induce the physicians to use Precision Lens’ and the Sightpath Entities’ products and services.

According to the settlement agreements, the United States contends that between January 1, 2006 and January 1, 2015, the Sightpath Entities provided physicians items of value to induce the use of Sightpath Entities’ products and services, which resulted in the submission of false claims to the United States for ophthalmological products and services. These items of value included hunting, skiing, fishing, and golf trips. Additionally, the Sightpath Entities entered into consulting agreements with physicians and physician practices for services that were never performed or not properly tracked, resulting in payments in excess of fair market value.

According to the settlement agreements, the United States further alleged that TIFFANY directed much of the conduct at issue, particularly between 2010 and 2013 when he was CEO of Sightpath and TLC, and that TIFFANY was directly involved in setting up and participating in several of the trips with physicians who were either Sightpath customers or potential customers. In addition, TIFFANY directly participated in establishing and continuing the lucrative consulting agreements with physicians and physician practices. The United States contends that by providing these items of value, the Sightpath Entities and TIFFANY knowingly induced physicians to utilize the Sightpath Entities’ products and services and submit false claims to the federal government. The claims were false because they were tainted by illegal kickbacks to the physicians, in violation of the Anti-Kickback Statute and the False Claims Act.

These settlements resolve allegations filed in a civil lawsuit originally brought by a whistleblower under the qui tam provisions of the False Claims Act, which allow private parties to bring suit on behalf of the government for false claims and to share in any recovery. The government often relies on whistleblowers to bring fraud schemes to light that might otherwise go undetected. The whistleblower in this matter, Kipp Fesenmaier, will receive 19.5 percent of the amounts recovered in connection with the settlement agreements.

As part of the FCA Agreement and in exchange for a release of OIG’s permissive exclusion authority, Sightpath has agreed to enter into a 5-year corporate integrity agreement (CIA) with OIG. Although not a signatory to the CIA, TLC is participating in the CIA as a “covered person.”

The United States has declined to intervene in the case against the other defendants named in the complaint. The claims resolved by these settlements are allegations only; there has been no determination of liability or wrongdoing.

The case was handled by Assistant U.S. Attorney Chad A. Blumenfield of the Civil Frauds Unit of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Minnesota with assistance from the Office of Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The case is United States ex rel. Fesenmaier v. Sightpath Medical, Inc. TLC Vision Corporation, The Cameron Ehlen Group, Inc. dba Precision Lens, et al., Civil No. 13-CV-3003 (RHK/FLN).

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Cleveland Doctor Sentenced in Hospice Fraud Case

Monday, August 14, 2017

OXFORD, Miss. – Robert H. Norman, Acting United States Attorney for the Northern District of Mississippi; Derrick L. Jackson, Special Agent in Charge at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General; Christopher Freeze, Special Agent in Charge at the Federal Bureau of Investigationand Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood announced that:

Dr. Nathaniel Brown, 62, of Cleveland, Mississippi, was sentenced Thursday, August 10, 2017 before United States District Judge Neal B. Biggers, Jr. in Oxford, Mississippi. Dr. Brown was sentenced to serve thirty-nine (39) months in federal prison followed by three (3) years supervised release and ordered to pay $1,941,254 in restitution to the Medicare program.

In January, Dr. Brown pled guilty to conspiracy to commit healthcare fraud in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1347 & 1349. Brown admitted to referring patients who were not hospice appropriate to Milestone Hospice and Sandanna Hospice which led to $1,941,254 in Medicare payments to Milestone and Sandanna. Brown also admitted to receiving $47,750 in payments by check from the hospice owner in addition to cash payments.

Dr. Brown is a corrupt doctor who participated in a hospice scam to exploit patients and their families,” said Special Agent in Charge Derrick L. Jackson, of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General. “The verdict today should send a clear message to dishonest medical professionals who abuse our health care system – they will be caught and face significant criminal charges.”

“Joint investigations continue to be indispensable in the fight against fraud in healthcare benefit programs,” said Attorney General Jim Hood. “We will continue to work with our federal and state partners in this ongoing battle to protect the resources needed to serve our most vulnerable citizens.”

“It is important the Medicare fund is properly guarded against inappropriate billing by health care providers, and patients are receiving those services billed to Medicare,” said Christopher Freeze, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI in Mississippi. “The FBI will continue to take a strong stance against individuals who engage in health care fraud.”

This case was investigated jointly by the US Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General, the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit of the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Clay Dabbs and Clay Joyner.

Compounding Pharmacy Sales Representative Pleads Guilty to Prescription Fraud Conspiracy

Thursday, August 17, 2017

TUSCALOOSA – A sales representative for a Haleyville, Ala.-based compounding pharmacy pleaded guilty today in federal court to participating in a conspiracy to generate prescriptions and defraud health care insurers and prescription drug administrators out of tens of millions of dollars in 2015.

U.S. Attorney Jay E. Town, FBI Special Agent in Charge Johnnie Sharp, U.S. Postal Inspector in Charge Adrian Gonzalez, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General, Special Agent in Charge Derrick L. Jackson, Defense Criminal Investigative Service Special Agent in Charge John F. Khin, and Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation, Acting Special Agent in Charge James E. Dorsey announced the plea.

BRIDGET McCUNE, 41, of Destin, Fla., pleaded guilty before U.S. District Court Judge L. Scott Coogler to conspiracy to commit health care fraud, wire fraud and mail fraud and to conspiring to solicit and receive kickbacks in return for referring prescriptions under Medicare and TRICARE, a U.S. Department of Defense health care program. McCune also pleaded guilty to four counts of health care fraud, and to two counts of money laundering for spending proceeds of the crimes. She remains out on bond pending sentencing, which is not yet scheduled.

McCune worked for Northside Pharmacy, an Alabama company doing business as Global Compounding Pharmacy. Global’s compounding and shipping facility was in Haleyville. The pharmacy did its prescription processing, billing and customer service at its “call center” in Clearwater, Fla.

Global hired sales representatives, including McCune, who were located in various states and were responsible for generating prescriptions from physicians and other prescribers. To bill insurance providers, including Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama, Medicare and TRICARE, for these prescriptions, Global contracted to enter the pharmacy networks of their third-party administrators, known as “pharmacy benefit managers” or “PBMs. These PBMs included Prime Therapeutics, Express Scripts Incorporated and CVS/Caremark.

McCune’s plea agreement with the government describes a conspiracy at Global that centered on generating and billing PBMs for fraudulent, often high-reimbursement prescriptions. To generate prescriptions, Global hired sales representatives who were married or related to doctors and other prescribers. Global also encouraged sales representatives to volunteer at doctors’ offices where they would review patient files and push Global’s products to patients. Global executives also frequently instructed employees to obtain high-reimbursing prescriptions that Global would fill and bill for reimbursement. The plea agreement describes a Global executive instructing sales representatives to obtain certain prescriptions and, shortly after, McCune obtained those prescriptions for herself and her dependents.

When billing, Global engaged in various fraudulent practices, including splitting drug quantities to evade PBM billing safeguards and automatically refilling and billing for prescriptions regardless of patient need, according to court documents. Global routinely waived co-pays to encourage patients to accept unnecessary medications and refills.

As part McCune’s plea, she agrees to forfeit $401,628 to the government as proceeds of illegal activity.

Global paid McCune a base salary plus a monthly commission for prescriptions that she obtained, according to court documents.

McCune began as a sales representative for Global’s Florida region in September 2014, working from Destin. Global promoted her to national field trainer in January 2015, but she also continued to function as a sales representative until she left the company in July 2016. McCune had a “close familial relationship” with a Florida physician, according to her plea agreement, and the “overwhelming majority of prescriptions she obtained” were issued under her family member’s signature.

At the same time that the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Alabama charged McCune, it separately charged another Global sales representative, KELLEY NORRIS, also known as KELLEY NORRIS-HARTLEY, 41, of Tuscaloosa. Norris faces the charge of conspiracy to commit health care fraud, wire fraud and mail fraud, as well as charges of health care fraud for submitting fraudulent prescription reimbursement claims to Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama. Norris also entered a plea agreement with the government.

The charges against McCune and Norris followed charges brought by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in May against Global sales representative Robin Gary Lowry, 49, of Columbus, Miss. Lowry was charged with conspiracy to defraud BCBS of Alabama and Prime Therapeutics. She also faced three counts of health care fraud for submitting fraudulent claims for payment to BCBS of Alabama.

Lowry pleaded guilty to the charges in June. She is scheduled for sentencing Nov. 7.

FBI, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General, U.S. Defense Criminal Investigative Service and Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation investigated the cases, which Assistant U.S. Attorneys Chinelo Dike-Minor and Nicole Grosnoff are prosecuting.

Houston Home Health Agency Owner Sentenced to 480 Months in Prison for Conspiring to Defraud Medicare and Medicaid of More Than $17 Million

Friday, August 18, 2017

WASHINGTON – The owner and operator of five Houston-area home health agencies was sentenced on Thursday to 480 months in prison for conspiring to defraud Medicare and the State of Texas’ Medicaid-funded Home and Community-Based Service (HCBS) and Primary Home Care (PHC) Programs of more than $17 million and launder the money that he stole from Medicare and Medicaid.  The HCBS and PHC Programs provided qualified individuals with in-home attendant and community-based services that are known commonly as “provider attendant services” (PAS).  This case marks the largest PAS fraud case charged in Texas history.

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 Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General’s (HHS-OIG) Dallas Regional Office, Special Agent in Charge D. Richard Goss of IRS Criminal Investigation’s (CI) Houston Field Office and the Texas Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit (MFCU) made the announcement.

Godwin Oriakhi, 61, of Houston, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Sim Lake of the Southern District of Texas.  In March 2017, Oriakhi pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy to commit health care fraud and one count of conspiracy to launder monetary instruments.

According to admissions made as part of Oriakhi’s plea, he, his co-defendant daughter and other members of his family owned and operated Aabraham Blessings LLC, Baptist Home Care Providers Inc., Community Wide Home Health Inc., Four Seasons Home Healthcare Inc. and Kis Med Concepts Inc., all of which were home health agencies in the Houston area.  Oriakhi admitted that he, along with his daughter and other co-conspirators, obtained patients for his home health agencies by paying illegal kickback payments to patient recruiters and his office employees for hundreds of patient referrals.  In his plea, Oriakhi also admitted that he, along with his daughter and co-conspirators, paid Medicare and Medicaid patients by cash, check, Western Union and Moneygram for receiving services from his family’s home health agencies in exchange for the ability to use the patients’ Medicare and Medicaid numbers to bill the programs for home healthcare and PAS services.  Oriakhi admitted that he, his daughter and their co-conspirators also directly paid some of these patients for recruiting and referring other Medicare and Medicaid patients to his agencies.  Additionally, Oriakhi admitted that he, his daughter and other co-conspirators paid physicians illegal kickbacks payments, which Oriakhi and his co-conspirators called “copayments,” for referring and certifying Medicare and Medicaid patients for home health and PAS services.

Oriakhi further admitted that each time he submitted a claim predicated on an illegal kickback payment he knew he was submitting a fraudulent claim to Medicare or Medicaid based on his false representations that the claim and the underlying transaction complied with the federal Anti-Kickback Statute and other state and federal laws.  Oriakhi further admitted that he knew that Medicare and Medicaid would not otherwise pay for the fraudulent claims, according to his plea.  In addition to the home health care and PAS services fraud scheme, Oriakhi admitted that he and his co-conspirators used the money fraudulently obtained from Medicare and Medicaid to make illegal kickback payments to patient recruiters, employees, physicians and patients to promote the Medicare home health and Medicaid PAS fraud conspiracies, and ensure their successful continuation.

In total, Oriakhi that he and his co-conspirators submitted approximately $17,819,456 in fraudulent home healthcare and PAS claims to Medicare and Medicaid and received approximately $16,198,600 on those claims.

To date, three others have pleaded guilty based on their roles in the fraudulent scheme at Oriakhi’s home healthcare agencies.  Oriakhi’s daughter, Idia Oriakhi, and Charles Esechie, a registered nurse who was Baptist’s primary admissions nurse, each pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring with Oriakhi and others to commit health care fraud.  Jermaine Doleman, a patient recruiter, pleaded guilty to conspiring with Oriakhi and others to commit health care fraud and launder money.  Doleman was also charged in two other healthcare fraud cases.  Esechie was also sentenced on August 17, to 60 months in prison.  Idia Oriakhi and Jermaine Doleman are awaiting sentencing.

The case was investigated by the IRS-CI, FBI, HHS-OIG and MFCU 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 Senior Trial Attorney Jonathan T. Baum and Trial Attorneys Aleza S. Remis and William S.W. Chang of the Fraud Section of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division.

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.

Acting Manhattan U.S. Attorney Announces $13.4 Million Settlement Of Civil Healthcare Fraud Lawsuit Against US Bioservices Corp.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Joon H. Kim, the Acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Scott J. Lampert, Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General for the New York Region (“HHS-OIG”), announced that the United States has settled a civil fraud case against US BIOSERVICES CORP. (“US BIO”) pursuant to which US BIO will pay a total of $13.4 million. The settlement resolves claims that US BIO violated the Anti-Kickback Statute and the False Claims Act by participating in a kickback scheme with Novartis PharmaceuticalS Corp. (“Novartis”) relating to the NOVARTIS drug Exjade. Specifically, the United States’ Complaint alleges that US BIO and NOVARTIS entered into a kickback arrangement pursuant to which US BIO was promised additional patient referrals and related benefits in return for refilling a higher percentage of Exjade than the two other pharmacies that also dispensed Exjade. The settlement will also resolve numerous state law civil fraud claims.

Yesterday, Chief U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon approved a settlement stipulation to resolve the Government’s claims against US BIO. Under the settlement, US BIO is required to pay approximately $10.6 million to the United States and has made extensive admissions regarding its conduct. Further, as part of the settlement, US BIO will pay approximately $2.8 million to resolve the state law civil fraud claims. In prior lawsuits, the Government sued NOVARTIS and the two other pharmacies that participated in this same Exjade kickback scheme. The Government settled those lawsuits, pursuant to which NOVARTIS paid $390 million, the two other pharmacies paid $75 million, and NOVARTIS and the pharmacies made extensive admissions regarding their conduct.

Acting Manhattan U.S. Attorney Joon H. Kim said: “The integrity of the federal healthcare system requires that all providers, including pharmacies like US Bioservices, refrain from entering into kickback relationships. When healthcare providers accept kickbacks, they violate the law, subject what should be health-based decision-making to the influence of profit-seeking drug manufacturers, and thereby put their own financial interests ahead of the interests of their patients. This Office will continue to use its law enforcement tools to pursue healthcare providers who accept kickbacks or otherwise put their profits ahead of patient safety.”

HHS-OIG Special Agent in Charge Scott J. Lampert said: “The conduct displayed by US Bioservices compromised patient care and undermined the integrity of our nation’s health care programs. This settlement should serve as a warning to all providers that choose to let financial inducements cloud their medical judgment.”

As alleged in the Government’s Complaint, US BIO participated in a kickback scheme with NOVARTIS that violated the federal Anti-Kickback Statute and the False Claims Act. In connection with this scheme, US BIO submitted claims for thousands of Exjade prescriptions to Medicare and Medicaid, causing those programs to pay out millions of dollars for false claims tainted by kickbacks. As part of the settlement, US BIO admitted as follows:

  • In December 2005, US BIO signed a contract with Novartis relating to the distribution of Exjade. Under that contract, Novartis agreed that US BIO would be one of three specialty pharmacies (the “EPASS pharmacies”) permitted to dispense Exjade as part of Novartis’s EPASS network. US BIO, in turn, agreed to provide specialty pharmacy services to Exjade patients, including having clinical staff available to speak with patients and to answer clinical questions or concerns about Exjade.
  • In or about June 2007, Novartis began issuing monthly “Exjade Scorecards” to US BIO and the other two EPASS pharmacies that measured, among other things, the pharmacies’ “adherence” scores. The “adherence” score in the Exjade Scorecards showed how long Exjade patients continued to order refills, without excluding patients who stopped ordering refills due to side effects or patients who were directed to stop therapy by their physicians. Starting in or about July 2007, Novartis had discussions with US BIO regarding how US BIO could improve its “adherence” scores in the Exjade Scorecards.
  • In late 2007 and early 2008, and to improve its “adherence” score, US BIO trained its nurses to call Exjade patients and tell patients that not treating iron overload, for which Exjade is prescribed, could have severe consequences like organ failure, and that while Exjade had certain common side effects like diarrhea, such side effects typically went away with time. The nurses at US BIO did not use written scripts for the calls with Exjade patients.
  • In October 2008, Novartis implemented a new plan for allocating Exjade patient referrals among US BIO and the other EPASS pharmacies. Under that plan, Novartis would allocate 60% of all undesignated patient referrals to the EPASS pharmacy with the top “adherence” scores in the Exjade Scorecards and allocate 20% of the undesignated patient referrals to each of the other two EPASS pharmacies.

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Mr. Kim thanked HHS-OIG and the Medicaid Fraud Control Units for New York, Washington, and California for their investigative efforts and assistance with this case.

The case is being handled by the Office’s Civil Frauds Unit. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Li Yu and Mónica P. Folch are in charge of the case.