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.

Dallas Doctor Sentenced on Health Care Fraud Conviction

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

DALLAS — A 60-year-old doctor from Rockwall, Texas, Jacques Roy, who was convicted in April 2016 of various health care fraud charges following a six-week-long trial, was sentenced today by U.S. District Judge Sam A. Lindsay to 420 months in federal prison and ordered to pay $268,147,699.15 in restitution, joint and several with all codefendants to Medicare and Medicaid, announced U.S. Attorney John Parker of the Northern District of Texas.

Roy was convicted of one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud, eight counts of health care fraud, two counts of making a false statement relating to healthcare matters and one count of obstruction of justice. Roy has been in custody since the time of his arrest in February 2012.

“The only thing more stunning than Jacques Roy and his co-conspirators’ shameless methods, said U.S. Attorney Parker, is the staggering dollar amounts involved in this fraud scheme. This takes brazen to a whole new level.”

The following defendants have also been sentence for their role in the health care fraud scheme:

  • Wilbert James Vesey, Jr., 210 months in federal prison and $23 million in restitution
  • Cyprian Akamnonu, 120 months in federal prison and $25 million in restitution
  • Patricia Akamnonu, 120 months in federal prison and $25 million in restitution
  • Charity Eleda, 48 months in federal prison and $397,294.51 in restitution
  • Teri Sivils, 3 years probation and $885,714.05 in restitution

Cynthia Stiger will be sentenced October 26, 2017.

The government presented evidence at trial that Dr. Roy, Stiger, Veasey and Eleda engaged in a large-scale, sophisticated health care fraud scheme in which they conspired together and with others to defraud Medicare and Medicaid through companies they owned/controlled: Medistat Group Associates, P.A., Apple of Your Eye Health Care Services, Inc., Ultimate Care Home Health Services and Charry Home Care Services.

As part of the conspiracy, Stiger, Veasey and Eleda, along with others, improperly recruited individuals with Medicare coverage to sign up for Medicare home health care services. Eleda recruited patients from The Bridge homeless shelter in Dallas, sometimes paying recruiters $50 per beneficiary they found and directed to her vehicle parked outside the shelter’s gates. Eleda and other nurses would falsify medical documents to make it appear as though those beneficiaries qualified for home health care services that were not medically necessary. Eleda and the nurses prepared Plans of Care (POC), also known as 485’s, which were not medically necessary, and these POCs were delivered to Dr. Roy’s office and not properly reviewed by any physician.

Dr. Roy instructed his staff to certify these POCs, which indicated to Medicare and Medicaid that a doctor, typically Dr. Roy, had reviewed the treatment plan and deemed it medically necessary. That certifying doctor, typically Dr. Roy, certified that the patient required home health services, which were only permitted to be provided to those individuals who were homebound and required, among other things, skilled nursing. This process was repeated for thousands of POCs, and, in fact, Medistat’s office included a “485 Department,” essentially a “boiler room” to affix fraudulent signatures and certifications.

Once an individual was certified for home health care services, Eleda, nurses who worked for Stiger and Veasey, and other nurses falsified visit notes to make it appear as though skilled nursing services were being provided and continued to be necessary. Dr. Roy would also visit the patients, perform unnecessary home visits, and then order unnecessary medical services for the recruited beneficiaries. Then, at Dr. Roy’s instruction, Medistat employees would submit fraudulent claims to Medicare for the certification and recertification of unnecessary home health care services and other unnecessary medical services.

The government presented further evidence at trial that the scope of Dr. Roy’s fraud was massive; Medistat processed and approved POCs for 11,000 unique Medicare beneficiaries from more than 500 different home health agencies. Dr. Roy entered into formal and informal fraudulent arrangements with Apple, Charry, Ultimate and other home health agencies to ensure his fraudulent business model worked and that he maintained a steady stream of Medicare beneficiaries.

Regarding Dr. Roy’s conviction for obstruction of justice, the government presented evidence that when the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) suspended Dr. Roy and Medistat from receiving Medicare payments after June 2, 2011, because of suspected fraud, Dr. Roy sought an “end-run” around the suspension through the use of another company, Medcare House Calls. Dr. Roy directed the medical providers he employed to be re-credentialed and to bill Medicare under Medcare House Calls, instead of Medistat. Nonetheless, the money that Medicare paid was circumvented back to Medistat and Dr. Roy.

The case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG), and the Texas Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit (MFCU) and was brought as part of the Medicare Fraud Strike Force supervised by the Criminal Division Fraud Section and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Texas.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys P.J. Meitl and Nicole Dana and First Assistant U.S. Attorney Chad Meacham prosecuted the case.

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.

Rowlett Woman Sentenced to 48 Months in Federal Prison for Role in Healthcare Fraud Conspiracy

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

DALLAS — Charity Eleda, R.N., 56, of Rowlett, Texas, was sentenced this morning in federal court in Dallas on a health care fraud conspiracy conviction, announced U.S. Attorney John Parker of the Northern District of Texas.

Eleda was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Sam A. Lindsay to 48 months in federal prison and ordered to pay $397,294.51 in restitution to Medicare. She has been in custody since April 2016, after a federal jury found her guilty of various health care fraud offenses.

Eleda, along with co-defendants, Jacques Roy, M.D., 59, of Rockwall, Texas; Cynthia Stiger, 54, of Dallas; and Wilbert James Veasey, Jr., 65, of Dallas, were each convicted following a six-week-long trial on one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud. In addition, Roy was convicted on eight, Veasey on three and Eleda on four counts of health care fraud. Roy was also convicted on two counts of making a false statement relating to healthcare matters and one count of obstruction of justice. Eleda was also convicted on three counts of making false statements for use in determining rights of benefit and payment by Medicare.

Three other defendants charged in the case, Cyprian Akamnonu and his registered nurse wife, Patricia Akamnonu, both of Cedar Hill, Texas, and Teri Sivils, of Midlothian, Texas, each pleaded guilty before trial to one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud. Cyprian and Patricia Akamnonu are each currently serving a ten-year federal prison sentence. They were also ordered to pay $25 million in restitution. Sivils pleaded guilty in April 2015, and was sentenced to 3 years probation.

The government presented evidence at trial that Dr. Roy, Stiger, Veasey and Eleda engaged in a large-scale, sophisticated health care fraud scheme in which they conspired together and with others to defraud Medicare and Medicaid through companies they owned/controlled: Medistat Group Associates, P.A., Apple of Your Eye Health Care Services, Inc., Ultimate Care Home Health Services and Charry Home Care Services.

As part of the conspiracy, Stiger, Veasey and Eleda, along with others, improperly recruited individuals with Medicare coverage to sign up for Medicare home health care services. Eleda recruited patients from The Bridge homeless shelter in Dallas, sometimes paying recruiters $50 per beneficiary they found and directed to her vehicle parked outside the shelter’s gates. Eleda and other nurses would falsify medical documents to make it appear as though those beneficiaries qualified for home health care services that were not medically necessary. Eleda and the nurses prepared Plans of Care (POC), also known as 485’s, which were not medically necessary, and these POCs were delivered to Dr. Roy’s office and not properly reviewed by any physician.

Dr. Roy instructed his staff to certify these POCs, which indicated to Medicare and Medicaid that a doctor, typically Dr. Roy, had reviewed the treatment plan and deemed it medically necessary. That certifying doctor, typically Dr. Roy, certified that the patient required home health services, which were only permitted to be provided to those individuals who were homebound and required, among other things, skilled nursing. This process was repeated for thousands of POCs, and, in fact, Medistat’s office included a “485 Department,” essentially a “boiler room” to affix fraudulent signatures and certifications.

Once an individual was certified for home health care services, Eleda, nurses who worked for Stiger and Veasey, and other nurses falsified visit notes to make it appear as though skilled nursing services were being provided and continued to be necessary. Dr. Roy would also visit the patients, perform unnecessary home visits, and then order unnecessary medical services for the recruited beneficiaries. Then, at Dr. Roy’s instruction, Medistat employees would submit fraudulent claims to Medicare for the certification and recertification of unnecessary home health care services and other unnecessary medical services.

The government presented further evidence at trial that the scope of Dr. Roy’s fraud was massive; Medistat processed and approved POCs for 11,000 unique Medicare beneficiaries from more than 500 different home health agencies. Dr. Roy entered into formal and informal fraudulent arrangements with Apple, Charry, Ultimate and other home health agencies to ensure his fraudulent business model worked and that he maintained a steady stream of Medicare beneficiaries.

The case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG), and the Texas Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit (MFCU) and was brought as part of the Medicare Fraud Strike Force supervised by the Criminal Division Fraud Section and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Texas.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys P.J. Meitl and Nicole Dana and First Assistant U.S. Attorney Chad Meacham prosecuted the case.

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.

Houston Physician Convicted of Conspiracy in $1.5 Million Medicare Fraud Scheme

Friday, July 21, 2017

A federal jury convicted a Houston physician today for his role in a scheme involving approximately $1.5 million in fraudulent Medicare claims for home health care services and various medical testing and 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, 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 the Texas Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit (MFCU) made the announcement.

After a four-day trial, Ronald F. Kahn, M.D., 62, of Harris County, Texas, was convicted of one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud and one count of conspiracy to pay and receive illegal kickbacks. Sentencing has been scheduled for September 25, before U.S. District Judge Kenneth M. Hoyt, who presided over the trial.

According to evidence presented at trial, from approximately 2006 until 2013, Kahn and others engaged in a scheme to defraud Medicare out of approximately $1.5 million in fraudulent claims for home heath care services in connection with Allied Covenant Home Health, Inc., a Houston home healthcare agency (Allied).  Kahn fraudulently admitted patients for home health care with Allied when they did not qualify for such services, the evidence showed. To make it appear that these patients did qualify, Kahn falsified medical records and signed false documents purporting to show that patients admitted to Allied’s home health program satisfied Medicare’s requirements for admission, the evidence showed.

The evidence also showed that Kahn paid illegal kickbacks for patients from Harris Health Care Group, a Houston medical clinic (Harris). Kahn paid illegal kickbacks to the owner of Harris in order to bill Medicare for facet injections that were medically unnecessary, not provided or both, the evidence showed.

The case was investigated by the FBI, HHS-OIG and Texas MFCU, 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 Assistant Chief Ashlee McFarlane and Trial Attorney Scott Armstrong 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.

Nine Miami-Dade Assisted Living Facility Owners Sentenced to Federal Prison for Receipt of Health Care Kickbacks

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Miami-Dade County assisted living facility owners, Marlene Marrero, 60, of Miami, Norma Casanova, 67, of Miami Lakes, Yeny De Erbiti, 51, of Miami, Rene Vega, 57, of Miami, Maribel Galvan, 43, of Miami Lakes, Dianelys Perez, 34, of Miami Gardens, Osniel Vera, 47, of Hialeah, Alicia Almeida, 56, of Miami Lakes, and Jorge Rodriguez, 57, of Hialeah, were sentenced to prison for receiving health care kickbacks. United States District Judge Marcia G. Cooke imposed sentences upon the nine defendants ranging from eight months to one year and one day, in prison. One assisted living facility owner, Blanca Orozco, 69, of Miramar, was sentenced to home confinement. In addition to their federal convictions, all ten defendants were also ordered to serve three years of supervised release, pay restitution and are subject to forfeiture judgments.

Benjamin G. Greenberg, Acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, Pam Bondi, Florida Attorney General, Shimon R. Richmond, Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG), and George L. Piro, Special Agent in Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Miami Field Office, made the announcement.

All ten defendants previously pled guilty to receipt of kickbacks in connection with a federal health care program, in violation of Title 42, United States Code, Section 1320a-7b(b)(1)(A). According to court documents, these assisted living facility owners conspired with the former owner of Florida Pharmacy to receive kickbacks and bribes in exchange for referring beneficiaries living in their facilities for prescription medication and durable medical equipment paid for by Medicare and Medicaid. The assisted living facility owners participated in the fraudulent scheme, in violation of their Medicaid provider agreement as well as federal and state anti-kickback rules and regulations.

Mr. Greenberg commended the investigative efforts of the Medicare Fraud Strike Force participating partners, including HHS-OIG, the State of Florida’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit, and the FBI. The case was prosecution by Special Assistant United States Attorney Hagerenesh Simmons.

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, HHS Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, working in conjunction with the HHS-OIG, are taking steps to increase accountability and decrease the presence of fraudulent providers.

Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Southern District of Florida at www.flsd.uscourts.gov or on http://pacer.flsd.uscourts.gov.

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.