Chemed Corp. and Vitas Hospice Services Agree to Pay $75 Million to Resolve False Claims Act Allegations Relating to Billing for Ineligible Patients and Inflated Levels of Care

Monday, October 30, 2017

Chemed Corporation and various wholly-owned subsidiaries, including Vitas Hospice Services LLC and Vitas Healthcare Corporation, have agreed to pay $75 million to resolve a government lawsuit alleging that defendants violated the False Claims Act (FCA) by submitting false claims for hospice services to Medicare.  Chemed, which is based in Cincinnati, Ohio, acquired Vitas in 2004. Vitas is the largest for-profit hospice chain in the United States.

“Today’s resolution represents the largest amount ever recovered under the False Claims Act from a provider of hospice services,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Chad A. Readler of the Justice Department’s Civil Division.  “Medicare’s hospice benefit provides critical services to some of the most vulnerable Medicare patients, and the Department will continue to ensure that this valuable benefit is used to assist those who need it, and not as an opportunity to line the pockets of those who seek to abuse it.”

The settlement resolves allegations that between 2002 and 2013 Vitas knowingly submitted or caused to be submitted false claims to Medicare for services to hospice patients who were not terminally ill.  Medicare’s hospice benefit is available for patients who elect palliative treatment (medical care focused on the patient’s relief from pain and stress) for a terminal illness and have a life expectancy of six months or less if their disease runs its normal course.  Patients who elect the hospice benefit forgo the right to curative care (medical care focused on treating the patient’s illness).  The government’s complaint alleged that Vitas billed for patients who were not terminally ill and thus did not qualify for the hospice benefit.  The government alleged that the defendants rewarded employees with bonuses for the number of patients receiving hospice services, without regard to whether they were actually terminally ill and whether they would have benefited from continuing curative care.

The settlement also resolves allegations that between 2002 and 2013, Vitas knowingly submitted or caused to be submitted false claims to Medicare for continuous home care services that were not necessary, not actually provided, or not performed in accordance with Medicare requirements.  Under the Medicare hospice benefit, providers may be reimbursed for four different levels of care, including continuous home care services.  Continuous home care services are only for patients who are experiencing acute medical symptoms causing a brief period of crisis.  The reimbursement rate for continuous home care services is the highest daily rate that Medicare pays, and hospices are paid hundreds of dollars more on a daily basis for each patient they certify as having received continuous home care services rather than routine hospice services.  According to the complaint, the defendants set goals for the number of continuous home care days billed to Medicare and used aggressive marketing tactics and pressured staff to increase the volume of continuous home care claims, without regard to whether the patients actually required this level of crisis care.

“This litigation and settlement demonstrate the commitment of the U.S. Attorney’s Office to investigate and pursue hospice providers engaging in practices that abuse the Medicare hospice benefit,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Thomas M. Larson of the Western District of Missouri.  “The integrity of the Medicare program must not be compromised by a hospice provider’s financial self-interest.”

Vitas also entered into a five-year Corporate Integrity Agreement (CIA) with the HHS Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG) to settle the agency’s administrative claims.

Steve Hanson, Special Agent in Charge, for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General, Kansas City Region, stated, “Healthcare providers who knowingly overbill our programs simply to increase their profits need to be put on notice that such conduct will not be tolerated, and we will pursue any and all remedies at our disposal to protect the tax payer and the Medicare and Medicaid programs.”

In addition to resolving the lawsuit filed by the United States, the settlement resolves three lawsuits filed under the whistleblower provision of the FCA, which permits private parties to file suit on behalf of the United States for false claims and share in a portion of the government’s recovery.  The Act permits the United States to intervene in such a lawsuit, as it did in the three whistleblower cases filed against the defendants.  These cases were subsequently transferred to the Western District of Missouri and consolidated with the government’s pending action.  The amount to be recovered by the private whistleblowers has not yet been determined.

The settlement was the result of a coordinated effort among the Commercial Litigation Branch of the Justice Department’s Civil Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Missouri, with assistance from the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices for the Central District of California and the Northern District of Texas and the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General.

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

The civil lawsuits are:  United States v. Vitas Hospice Services, LLC, et al., Civil Action No. 13-00449 (W.D. Mo.); United States ex rel. Laura Spottiswood v. Chemed Corporation, et al., Civil Action No. 13-505 (W.D. Mo.), transferred from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois; United States ex rel. Barbara Urick v. VITAS HME Solutions, Inc., et al., Civil Action No. 13-536 (W.D. Mo.), transferred from the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas; and United States ex rel. Charles Gonzales v. VITAS Healthcare Corporation, et al., Civil Action No. 13-00344 (W.D. Mo.), transferred from the United States District Court for the Central District of California.

Operators of Bogus Medical Clinics Charged in Conspiracy to Divert Massive Amounts of Prescription Narcotics to the Black Market

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Glendale Defense Attorney and Others Involved in Scheme Allegedly Obstructed Justice by Creating Fake Medical Records to Justify Fraudulent Prescriptions

LOS ANGELES – The operators of seven sham medical clinics were among 12 defendants taken into custody this morning on federal drug trafficking charges that allege they diverted at least 2 million prescription pills – including oxycodone and other addictive and dangerous narcotics – to the black market.

Two indictments returned late last month by a federal grand jury alleges that members of the conspiracy profited from illicit prescriptions that were issued without any legitimate medical purpose through a series of clinics that periodically opened and closed in a “nomadic” style. The fraudulent prescriptions allegedly allowed the conspirators to obtain bulk quantities of prescription drugs that were sold on the street.

Those arrested this morning include Minas Matosyan, an Encino man also known as “Maserati Mike,” who is charged with leading the scheme and controlling six of the sham clinics. Matosyan allegedly hired corrupt doctors who allowed the conspirators to issue fraudulent prescriptions under their names in exchange for kickbacks.

“The two indictments charge 14 defendants who allegedly participated in an elaborate scheme they mistakenly hoped would conceal a high-volume drug trafficking operation,” said Acting United States Attorney Sandra R. Brown. “In addition to generating illicit profits, this scheme helped drive the prescription drug epidemic that is causing so much harm across our nation.”

“This investigation targeted a financially motivated racket that diverted deadly and addictive prescription painkillers to the black market,” said DEA Special Agent in Charge David Downing. “Today’s arrests underscore our resolve – DEA and its law enforcement partners will not tolerate criminal enterprises that fuel and exploit the opioid epidemic.”

The indictments unsealed today and search warrants executed this morning describe how Matosyan would “rent out recruited doctors to sham clinics.” Matosyan allegedly supplied corrupt doctors in exchange for kickbacks derived from proceeds generated when the other sham clinics created fraudulent prescriptions or submitted fraudulent bills to health care programs. In one example described in the court documents, Matosyan provided a corrupt doctor to a clinic owner in exchange for $120,000. When the clinic failed to pay the money and suggested instead that Matosyan “take back” the corrupt doctor, Matosyan demanded his money and said, “Doctors are like underwear to me. I don’t take back used things.”

In a recorded conversation described in court documents, Matosyan discussed how one doctor was paid “for sitting at home,” while thousands of narcotic pills were prescribed in that doctor’s name and Medicare was billed more than $500,000 for purported patient care.

The conspirators also allegedly stole the identities of doctors who refused to participate in the scheme. In an intercepted telephone conversation described in court documents, Matosyan offered a doctor a deal to “sit home making $20,000 a month doing nothing.” When the doctor refused the offer, the conspirators nevertheless created prescription pads in the doctor’s name and allegedly began selling fraudulent prescriptions for oxycodone without the doctor’s knowledge or consent.

According to court documents, the conspirators also issued prescriptions and submitted fraudulent billings in the name of a doctor who at the time was hospitalized and later died.

“The defendants in this scheme heartlessly lined their pockets with cash from the sale of thousands of addictive prescription drugs sold through the black market,” stated IRS Criminal Investigation’s Special Agent in Charge, R. Damon Rowe. “IRS Criminal Investigation, along with our law enforcement partners, will continue to aggressively pursue those who seek to profit from the sale and distribution of illegitimate prescription narcotics creating a drug crisis of epic portions in our country.”

“For the sake of mere profit, the operators of these medical clinics spewed deadly prescription drugs onto our streets. The opioid epidemic gripping this country is well documented and our communities in the Los Angeles area have been impacted,” said Christian J. Schrank, Special Agent in Charge for the Office of Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “Too often those ill-gotten gains came at the expense of innocent Americans. It has been a pleasure working with our law enforcement colleagues to bring these people to justice.”

“Today’s enforcement actions, and the long-term multiagency investigation that preceded them, have dealt a major blow to a sophisticated healthcare fraud and identity theft scheme that posed a double threat. Not only did the defendants in this case use physicians’ names to write fraudulent prescriptions and fleece Medicare out of millions of dollars, but they’re also accused of funneling large quantities of dangerous prescription opiates, including oxycodone and hydrocodone, into the community,” said Joseph Macias, special agent in charge for Homeland Security Investigations in Los Angeles. “In collaboration with our law enforcement partners, HSI will continue to aggressively target those who compromise the integrity of our healthcare system and public safety to satisfy their own greed.”

The indictment also charges Matosyan and others – including Glendale-based criminal defense attorney Fred Minassian – with obstruction of justice for allegedly creating fraudulent medical records in an effort to deter the investigation.

After a load of Vicodin was seized from one of the conspiracy’s major customers, Matosyan allegedly oversaw the creation of fake medical paperwork in an effort to make it appear the drugs had been legitimately prescribed. The indictment describes intercepted conversations in which Minassian strategized on how to deceive law enforcement, which included a plan to bribe a doctor to lie to authorities.

The 12 defendants arrested this morning are:

  • Minas Matosyan, 36, of Encino, who is accused of leading the scheme by recruiting corrupt doctors, overseeing the theft of other doctors’ identities, and negotiating the sale of fraudulent prescriptions and narcotic pills;
  • Armen Simonyan, 52, of Burbank, who allegedly managed the operations at some of the fraudulent clinics;
  • Grisha Sayadyan, 66, of Burbank, who allegedly managed the operations at various clinics and sold oxycodone and Vicodin pills directly to black market customers;
  • Sabrina Guberman, 45, of Encino, who, while working at the sham clinics, allegedly lied to pharmacies seeking to verify the fraudulent narcotic prescriptions, which included creating and sending fake medical paperwork;
  • Frederick Manning Jr., 47, of Santa Ana, allegedly one of the major drug customers of the clinics, who is charged with agreeing to purchase as many as 1,000 pills per week of narcotics from Matosyan;
  • Fred Minassian, 50, of Glendale, the criminal defense attorney who allegedly spearheaded the scheme to lie to law enforcement by making it falsely appear that Vicodin seized from Freddie Manning Jr. had been legitimately prescribed by a doctor;
  • Ralph Manning, 49, of North Hills (no relation to Frederick Manning Jr.), who is charged with being one of the principal couriers Matosyan used to deliver fraudulent prescriptions and “bulk quantities” of narcotic pills;
  • Hayk Matosyan, 30, of Granada Hills, Matosyan’s brother, who allegedly filled fraudulent narcotic prescriptions at pharmacies and sold the resulting narcotics pills to black-market customers.
  • Marisa Montenegro, 54, of West Hills, who allegedly filled fraudulent prescriptions;
  • Elizabeth Gurumdzhyan, 25, of Hollywood, who allegedly filled fraudulent prescriptons;
  • Anait Guyumzhyan, 27, of Hollywood, who allegedly filled prescriptions for oxycodone and returned the drugs to Matosyan-operated clinics in exchange for cash payment; and
  • James Wilson, 54, of Venice, who alone is charged in the second indictment with illegally selling oxycodone prescriptions out of a Long Beach clinic that he controlled.

The 12 defendants arrested this morning are expected to be arraigned on the indictment this afternoon in United States District Court.

Authorities are continuing to seek two defendants named in the main indictment. Those fugitives are: Gary Henderson, 62, of Lancaster, who allegedly purchased fraudulent oxycodone prescriptions from Matosyan; and an unidentified conspirator known only by the name “Cindy.”

An indictment contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.

All of the defendants face significant terms in federal prison if they are convicted. For example, if convicted of the nine counts in which he is charged, Matosyan would face a statutory maximum sentence of 165 years in prison.

The investigation in this case was conducted by the Drug Enforcement Administration; IRS Criminal Investigation; the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services – Office of Inspector General; the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office, Pharmaceutical Crimes Unit; and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations.

The primary investigative agencies received substantial assistance from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, the Los Angeles Police Department, the California Department of Justice, and the Orange Police Department.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Benjamin Barron and Jamie Lang of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force.

U.S. Files New Complaint Against City Of Los Angeles and a Former Redevelopment Agency to Recover Millions of Federal Grant Dollars Allegedly Obtained by Making False Promises to Provide Housing to Persons with Disabilities

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The United States late yesterday filed a complaint in intervention against the City of Los Angeles and the CRA/LA (formerly the Community Redevelopment Agency of the City of Los Angeles) alleging that together they fraudulently obtained millions of dollars in housing grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) by falsely certifying that the money was being spent in compliance with federal accessibility laws.

The complaint in intervention – which replaces a complaint previously filed on behalf of the United States by a “whistleblower” – alleges the city and CRA/LA received federal money by falsely promising to create accessible housing for people with disabilities. Instead of creating accessible housing, they used the money to create inaccessible housing that deprived people with disabilities an equal opportunity to find housing of their choice.

The city repeatedly certified its compliance with federal accessibility laws to obtain the federal funds without taking the required steps to ensure it complied, according to the complaint, which further alleges that many of the HUD-assisted apartment buildings failed to meet minimal accessibility requirements. The city allegedly approved the design and construction of inaccessible buildings, with, among other things:

  • slopes and ramps that are too steep for safe passage by persons with mobility disabilities;
  • door thresholds that are too tall for wheelchairs to roll over;
  • steps that prohibit access to common areas;
  • kitchen cabinets, shelves and surfaces that are outside of the accessible reach ranges of persons who use wheelchairs;
  • sinks, grab bars, mailboxes and circuit breakers mounted beyond the reach of wheelchair users;
  • pipes below sinks and lavatories that are not insulated, thereby posing a physical threat of burns to people who use wheelchairs; and
  • insufficient numbers of accessible parking spaces in garages and lots.

“The complaint filed yesterday underscores the Department’s commitment to ensure that people with disabilities are provided equal access to federally-funded public housing, as required by law,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Chad A. Readler of the Justice Department’s Civil Division.

“Despite the federal government investing hundreds of millions of dollars in Los Angeles to create housing for everyone, the City of Los Angeles instead created housing only for some,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Sandra R. Brown for the Central District of California. “For 17 years, the city falsely certified that it had complied with federal law and covered up its repeated disregard of historic and important civil rights laws.”

The city and the CRA/LA allegedly violated Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Fair Housing Act, as well as failed to fulfill their duty to affirmatively further fair housing. Congress passed these accessibility laws to ensure people with disabilities have an opportunity to live in an integrated society, achieve independent living, and have the same opportunities for economic and social self-sufficiency as other citizens.

By law, the city and the CRA/LA are required to comply with the federal accessibility laws. They could not – neither directly, nor through contractual or other arrangements – deny people with disabilities the opportunity to benefit from housing services or subject them to discrimination based on disability.

The accessibility laws require recipients of federal funds to operate their housing programs in a manner that is accessible to people with disabilities. Among other things, they must have a system in place to ensure compliance with the laws. They are required to develop non-discriminatory policies and practices, hire a coordinator knowledgeable about accessibility, and implement a grievance procedure that allows for just resolution of complaints. They also must maintain a publicly available list of accessible units and their accessibility features so that people who require those features are able to find housing.

The federal accessibility laws also require that recipients of federal monies have a method in place to avoid giving accessible units needed by people with disabilities to people who do not need accessibility features. The laws also require that recipients of federal monies monitor apartment buildings to ensure they are designed, constructed and altered in compliance with the law so that, among other things, five percent of all units in certain multifamily housing will be accessible to people with mobility impairments, and an additional two percent will be accessible to people with visual and auditory impairments.

The United States’ lawsuit alleges that the city and CRA/LA failed to meet these legal obligations.

The lawsuit, United States ex rel. Ling, et al. v. City of Los Angeles, et al., CV11-974-PG, was originally filed in U.S. District Court by whistleblowers Mei Ling, a resident of Los Angeles who uses a wheelchair, and the Fair Housing Council of San Fernando Valley, a nonprofit civil rights advocacy group. The United States elected to intervene in the lawsuit and take over the litigation, which prompted the unsealing of the whistleblowers’ complaint in June. The case is pending before U.S. District Judge Philip S. Gutierrez.

The lawsuit was filed under the qui tam – or whistleblower – provisions of the False Claims Act, which permit private parties to sue on behalf of the United States when they believe that a party has submitted false claims for government funds, and to receive a share of any recovery.

This matter was investigated by the Civil Division’s Commercial Litigation Branch, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California and the HUD Office of Inspector General.

The claims asserted against the City of Los Angeles and the CRA/LA are allegations only; there has been no determination of liability.