National Health Care Fraud Takedown Results in Charges Against Over 412 Individuals Responsible for $1.3 Billion in Fraud Losses

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Largest Health Care Fraud Enforcement Action in Department of Justice History

Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Tom Price, M.D., announced today 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.

Attorney General Sessions and Secretary Price were joined in the announcement by Acting Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Blanco of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Acting Director Andrew McCabe of the FBI, Acting Administrator Chuck Rosenberg of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Inspector General Daniel Levinson of the HHS Office of Inspector General (OIG), Chief Don Fort of IRS Criminal Investigation, Administrator Seema Verma of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), and Deputy Director Kelly P. Mayo of the Defense Criminal Investigative Service (DCIS).

Today’s enforcement actions were led and coordinated by the Criminal Division, Fraud Section’s Health Care Fraud Unit in conjunction with its Medicare Fraud Strike Force (MFSF) partners, a partnership between the Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney’s Offices, the FBI and HHS-OIG.  In addition, the operation includes the participation of the DEA, DCIS, and State Medicaid Fraud Control Units.

The charges announced today aggressively target schemes billing Medicare, Medicaid, and TRICARE (a health insurance program for members and veterans of the armed forces and their families) for medically unnecessary prescription drugs and compounded medications that often were never even purchased and/or distributed to beneficiaries. The charges also involve individuals contributing to the opioid epidemic, with a particular focus on medical professionals involved in the unlawful distribution of opioids and other prescription narcotics, a particular focus for the Department. According to the CDC, approximately 91 Americans die every day of an opioid related overdose.

“Too many trusted medical professionals like doctors, nurses, and pharmacists have chosen to violate their oaths and put greed ahead of their patients,” said Attorney General Sessions. “Amazingly, some have made their practices into multimillion dollar criminal enterprises. They seem oblivious to the disastrous consequences of their greed. Their actions not only enrich themselves often at the expense of taxpayers but also feed addictions and cause addictions to start. The consequences are real: emergency rooms, jail cells, futures lost, and graveyards.  While today is a historic day, the Department’s work is not finished. In fact, it is just beginning. We will continue to find, arrest, prosecute, convict, and incarcerate fraudsters and drug dealers wherever they are.”

“Healthcare fraud is not only a criminal act that costs billions of taxpayer dollars – it is an affront to all Americans who rely on our national healthcare programs for access to critical healthcare services and a violation of trust,” said Secretary Price. “The United States is home to the world’s best medical professionals, but their ability to provide affordable, high-quality care to their patients is jeopardized every time a criminal commits healthcare fraud. That is why this Administration is committed to bringing these criminals to justice, as President Trump demonstrated in his 2017 budget request calling for a new $70 million investment in the Health Care Fraud and Abuse Control Program. The historic results of this year’s national takedown represent significant progress toward protecting the integrity and sustainability of Medicare and Medicaid, which we will continue to build upon in the years to come.”

According to court documents, the defendants allegedly participated in schemes to submit claims to Medicare, Medicaid and TRICARE for treatments that were medically unnecessary and often never provided. In many cases, patient recruiters, beneficiaries and other co-conspirators were allegedly paid cash kickbacks in return for supplying beneficiary information to providers, so that the providers could then submit fraudulent bills to Medicare for services that were medically unnecessary or never performed. The number of medical professionals charged is particularly significant, because virtually every health care fraud scheme requires a corrupt medical professional to be involved in order for Medicare or Medicaid to pay the fraudulent claims.  Aggressively pursuing corrupt medical professionals not only has a deterrent effect on other medical professionals, but also ensures that their licenses can no longer be used to bilk the system.

“This week, thanks to the work of dedicated investigators and analysts, we arrested once-trusted doctors, pharmacists and other medical professionals who were corrupted by greed,” said Acting Director McCabe. “The FBI is committed to working with our partners on the front lines of the fight against heath care fraud to stop those who steal from the government and deceive the American public.”

“Health care fraud is a reprehensible crime.  It not only represents a theft from taxpayers who fund these vital programs, but impacts the millions of Americans who rely on Medicare and Medicaid,” said Inspector General Levinson. “In the worst fraud cases, greed overpowers care, putting patients’ health at risk. OIG will continue to play a vital leadership role in the Medicare Fraud Strike Force to track down those who abuse important federal health care programs.”

“Our enforcement actions underscore the commitment of the Defense Criminal Investigative Service and our partners to vigorously investigate fraud perpetrated against the DoD’s TRICARE Program. We will continue to relentlessly investigate health care fraud, ensure the taxpayers’ health care dollars are properly spent, and endeavor to guarantee our service members, military retirees, and their dependents receive the high standard of care they deserve,” advised Deputy Director Mayo.

“Last year, an estimated 59,000 Americans died from a drug overdose, many linked to the misuse of prescription drugs. This is, quite simply, an epidemic,” said Acting Administrator Rosenberg. “There is a great responsibility that goes along with handling controlled prescription drugs, and DEA and its partners remain absolutely committed to fighting the opioid epidemic using all the tools at our disposal.”

“Every defendant in today’s announcement shares one common trait – greed,” said Chief Fort. “The desire for money and material items drove these individuals to perpetrate crimes against our healthcare system and prey upon many of the vulnerable in our society.  Thanks to the financial expertise and diligence of IRS-CI special agents, who worked side-by-side with other federal, state and local law enforcement officers to uncover these schemes, these criminals are off the street and will now face the consequences of their actions.”

The Medicare Fraud 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. The Medicare Fraud Strike Force operates in nine locations nationwide. Since its inception in March 2007, the Medicare Fraud Strike Force has charged over 3500 defendants who collectively have falsely billed the Medicare program for over $12.5 billion.

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For the Strike Force locations, in the Southern District of Florida, a total of 77 defendants were charged with offenses relating to their participation in various fraud schemes involving over $141 million in false billings for services including home health care, mental health services and pharmacy fraud.  In one case, the owner and operator of a purported addiction treatment center and home for recovering addicts and one other individual were charged in a scheme involving the submission of over $58 million in fraudulent medical insurance claims for purported drug treatment services. The allegations include actively recruiting addicted patients to move to South Florida so that the co-conspirators could bill insurance companies for fraudulent treatment and testing, in return for which, the co-conspirators offered kickbacks to patients in the form of gift cards, free airline travel, trips to casinos and strip clubs, and drugs.

In the Eastern District of Michigan, 32 defendants face charges for their alleged roles in fraud, kickback, money laundering and drug diversion schemes involving approximately $218 million in false claims for services that were medically unnecessary or never rendered. In one case, nine defendants, including six physicians, were charged with prescribing medically unnecessary controlled substances, some of which were sold on the street, and billing Medicare for $164 million in facet joint injections, drug testing, and other procedures that were medically unnecessary and/or not provided.

In the Southern District of Texas, 26 individuals were charged in cases involving over $66 million in alleged fraud. Among these defendants are a physician and a clinic owner who were indicted on one count of conspiracy to distribute and dispense controlled substances and three substantive counts of distribution of controlled substances in connection with a purported pain management clinic that is alleged to have been the highest prescribing hydrocodone clinic in Houston, where approximately 60-70 people were seen daily, and were issued medically unnecessary prescriptions for hydrocodone in exchange for approximately $300 cash per visit.

In the Central District of California, 17 defendants were charged for their roles in schemes to defraud Medicare out of approximately $147 million. Two of these defendants were indicted for their alleged involvement in a $41.5 million scheme to defraud Medicare and a private insurer. This was purportedly done by submitting fraudulent claims, and receiving payments for, prescription drugs that were not filled by the pharmacy nor given to patients.

In the Northern District of Illinois, 15 individuals were charged in cases related to six different schemes concerning home health care services and physical therapy fraud, kickbacks, and mail and wire fraud.  These schemes involved allegedly over $12.7 million in fraudulent billing. One case allegedly involved $7 million in fraudulent billing to Medicare for home health services that were not necessary nor rendered.

In the Middle District of Florida, 10 individuals were charged with participating in a variety of schemes involving almost $14 million in fraudulent billing.  In one case, three defendants were charged in a $4 million scheme to defraud the TRICARE program.  In that case, it is alleged that a defendant falsely represented himself to be a retired Lieutenant Commander of the United States Navy Submarine Service. It is alleged that he did so in order to gain the trust and personal identifying information from TRICARE beneficiaries, many of whom were members and veterans of the armed forces, for use in the scheme.

In the Eastern District of New York, ten individuals were charged with participating in a variety of schemes including kickbacks, services not rendered, and money laundering involving over $151 million in fraudulent billings to Medicare and Medicaid. Approximately $100 million of those fraudulent billings were allegedly part of a scheme in which five health care professionals paid illegal kickbacks in exchange for patient referrals to their own clinics.

In the Southern Louisiana Strike Force, operating in the Middle and Eastern Districts of Louisiana as well as the Southern District of Mississippi, seven defendants were charged in connection with health care fraud, wire fraud, and kickback schemes involving more than $207 million in fraudulent billing. One case involved a pharmacist who was charged with submitting and causing the submission of $192 million in false and fraudulent claims to TRICARE and other health care benefit programs for dispensing compounded medications that were not medically necessary and often based on prescriptions induced by illegal kickback payments.

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In addition to the Strike Force locations, today’s enforcement actions include cases and investigations brought by an additional 31 U.S. Attorney’s Offices, including the execution of search warrants in investigations conducted by the Eastern District of California and the Northern District of Ohio.

In the Northern and Southern Districts of Alabama, three defendants were charged for their roles in two health care fraud schemes involving pharmacy fraud and drug diversion.

In the Eastern District of Arkansas, 24 defendants were charged for their roles in three drug diversion schemes that were all investigated by the DEA.

In the Northern and Southern Districts of California, four defendants, including a physician, were charged for their roles in a drug diversion scheme and a health care fraud scheme involving kickbacks.

In the District of Connecticut, three defendants were charged in two health care fraud schemes, including a scheme involving two physicians who fraudulently billed Medicaid for services that were not rendered and for the provision of oxycodone with knowledge that the prescriptions were not medically necessary.

In the Northern and Southern Districts of Georgia, three defendants were charged in two health care fraud schemes involving nearly $1.5 million in fraudulent billing.

In the Southern District of Illinois, five defendants were charged in five separate schemes to defraud the Medicaid program.

In the Northern and Southern Districts of Indiana, at least five defendants were charged in various health care fraud schemes related to the unlawful distribution and dispensing of controlled substances, kickbacks, and services not rendered.

In the Southern District of Iowa, five defendants were charged in two schemes involving the distribution of opioids.

In the Western District of Kentucky, 11 defendants were charged with defrauding the Medicaid program.  In one case, four defendants, including three medical professionals, were charged with distributing controlled substances and fraudulently billing the Medicaid program.

In the District of Maine, an office manager was charged with embezzling funds from a medical office.

In the Eastern and Western Districts of Missouri, 16 defendants were charged in schemes involving over $16 million in claims, including 10 defendants charged as part of a scheme involving fraudulent lab testing.

In the District of Nebraska, a dentist was charged with defrauding the Medicaid program.

In the District of Nevada, two defendants, including a physician, were charged in a scheme involving false hospice claims.

In the Northern, Southern, and Western Districts of New York, five defendants, including two physicians and two pharmacists, were charged in schemes involving drug diversion and pharmacy fraud.

In the Southern District of Ohio, five defendants, including four physicians, were charged in connection with schemes involving $12 million in claims to the Medicaid program.

In the District of Puerto Rico, 13 defendants, including three physicians and two pharmacists, were charged in four schemes involving drug diversion, Medicaid fraud, and the theft of funds from a health care program.

In the Eastern District of Tennessee, three defendants were charged in a scheme involving fraudulent billings and the distribution of opioids.

In the Eastern, Northern, and Western Districts of Texas, nine defendants were charged in schemes involving over $42 million in fraudulent billing, including a scheme involving false claims for compounded medications.

In the District of Utah, a nurse practitioner was charged in connection with fraudulently obtaining a controlled substance, tampering with a consumer product, and infecting over seven individuals with Hepatitis C.

In the Eastern District of Virginia, a defendant was charged in connection with a scheme involving identify theft and fraudulent billings to the Medicaid program.

In addition, in the states of Arizona, Arkansas, California, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Vermont and Washington, 96 defendants have been charged in criminal and civil actions with defrauding the Medicaid program out of over $31 million. These cases were investigated by each state’s respective Medicaid Fraud Control Units. In addition, the Medicaid Fraud Control Units of the states of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Nebraska, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas, and Utah participated in the investigation of many of the federal cases discussed above.

The cases announced today are being prosecuted and investigated by U.S. Attorney’s Offices nationwide, along with Medicare Fraud Strike Force teams from the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and from the U.S. Attorney’s Offices of the Southern District of Florida, Eastern District of Michigan, Eastern District of New York, Southern District of Texas, Central District of California, Eastern District of Louisiana, Northern District of Texas, Northern District of Illinois and the Middle District of Florida; and agents from the FBI, HHS-OIG, Drug Enforcement Administration, DCIS and state Medicaid Fraud Control Units.

A complaint, information, or indictment is merely an allegation, and all defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

Additional documents related to this announcement will shortly be available here: https://www.justice.gov/opa/documents-and-resources-july-13-2017.

This operation also highlights the great work being done by the Department of Justice’s Civil Division.  In the past fiscal year, the Department of Justice, including the Civil Division, has collectively won or negotiated over $2.5 billion in judgements and settlements related to matters alleging health care fraud.

Department of Defense Procurement Official Sentenced for His Role in Contract Bribery Scheme

A Utah man was sentenced to serve 24 months in prison for his role in a bribery and fraud scheme involving federal procurement contracts, announced Acting Assistant Attorney General Mythili Raman of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney David B. Barlow of the District of Utah.

On Oct. 24, 2011, Jose Mendez, 50, of Farr West, Utah, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bribery and procurement fraud, bribery, and procurement fraud.  Mendez was charged in an October 2011 indictment, along with Sylvester Zugrav, 71, and Maria Zugrav, 67, owners of Atlas International Trading Company in Sarasota, Fla.  The Zugravs were sentenced on Jan. 8, 2014.

According to court documents, while Mendez worked as a procurement program manager for the U.S. Air Force at Hill Air Force Base in Ogden, Utah, he conspired to enrich himself and others by exchanging money and other things of value for non-public information and favorable treatment in the procurement process.  Court records state that Mendez was offered approximately $1,240,500 in payments and other things of value throughout the course of the conspiracy.  Mendez admitted that from approximately 2008 to August 2011, he received more than $185,000 in payments and other things of value, with promises of additional bribe payments if Atlas were to receive future contracts from the U.S. government.

In return for the bribes offered and paid, Mendez admitted he gave Atlas and the Zugravs favorable treatment during the procurement process, including disclosing government budget and competitor bid information, which helped Atlas and the Zugravs in winning contracts.

The case was investigated by the FBI and the Air Force Office of Special Investigations. The case was prosecuted by Trial Attorneys Marquest J. Meeks and Edward P. Sullivan of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Carlos A. Esqueda of the District of Utah.

 

Florida Couple Sentenced for Roles in Procurement Contract Bribery Scheme

A Florida man was sentenced to serve 15 months in prison, and his wife was sentenced to 24 months of probation, for their roles in a bribery and fraud scheme involving federal procurement contracts, announced Acting Assistant Attorney General Mythili Raman of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney David B. Barlow of the District of Utah.
On Feb. 26, 2013, Sylvester Zugrav, 70, of Sarasota, Fla., pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bribery and procurement fraud, and his wife, Maria Zugrav, 67, also of Sarasota, pleaded guilty to misprision of a felony related to her efforts to conceal the conspiracy.
The Zugravs were charged in an October 2011 indictment along with Jose Mendez, 51, of Farr West, Utah.   Mendez, a procurement program manager for the U.S. Air Force Foreign Materials Acquisition Support Office (FMASO) at Hill Air Force Base, in Ogden, Utah, was charged in the indictment with conspiracy, bribery and procurement fraud, and has since pleaded guilty to all charges and agreed to forfeit more than $180,000 he received as part of the bribery scheme.   Sentencing for Mendez is scheduled for Jan. 29, 2014.
According to court documents, the Zugravs owned Atlas International Trading Company, a business that contracted to provide foreign military materials to the U.S. government through FMASO.
In his plea agreement, Sylvester Zugrav admitted that, from 2008 through August 2011, he gave Mendez more than $180,000 in bribe payments and offered Mendez more than $1 million in additional bribe payments contingent upon Atlas’s receipt of future contracts with FMASO.   In exchange for Sylvester Zugrav’s bribe payments and offers, Mendez ensured that Atlas and Sylvester Zugrav received favorable treatment in connection with procurement contracts by, among other things, assisting Atlas in obtaining and maintaining procurement contracts; assisting Atlas in receiving payments on such contracts; and providing Atlas with contract bid or proposal information or source selection information before the award of procurement contracts.   In her plea agreement, Maria Zugrav admitted that she was aware of Sylvester Zugrav’s bribe payments to Mendez and assisted with concealing the crime.
According to court records, Sylvester Zugrav provided bribe payments to Mendez in three ways: cash payments via Federal Express to Mendez’s residential address; in-person payments of cash and other things of value; and electronic wire transfers to a bank account in Mexico opened by and in the name of Mendez’s cousin.   Between November 2009 and August 2011, Sylvester Zugrav sent nine FedEx packages to Mendez’s home address.   Each package contained $5,000 in cash, except the last package, which contained $3,000 and was seized by law enforcement.   Maria Zugrav assisted her husband and Mendez’s bribe scheme by limiting cash withdrawals from Atlas’s bank account to not more than $5,000 to avoid scrutiny by banking officials and law enforcement.
According to the plea documents, on multiple occasions when Sylvester Zugrav and Mendez traveled to the same location, Sylvester Zugrav would give Mendez cash payments and other things of value.   From 2008 through August 2011, Sylvester Zugrav gave Mendez seven in-person cash payments ranging from $500 to $10,000 and purchased for him[?] a laptop computer and software package worth over $2,900.
During the course of the corrupt scheme, Mendez opened a foreign bank account so that Sylvester Zugrav could pay Mendez larger bribe payments.   Mendez asked his cousin in Mexico to open an account there.   After the account was opened by Mendez’s cousin, Maria Zugrav made wire transfers to the bank account located in the name of Mendez’s cousin to avoid detection of the larger bribe payments by law enforcement.   From 2008 through August 2011, Maria Zugrav sent to the Mexico account 10 wire transfers ranging from $350 to $26,700.
Court records also describe additional steps taken to conceal the bribery scheme, including creating and using covert e-mail accounts, using encrypted documents, adopting false names and using code words.   For instance, to avoid detection of their e-mail communications, Sylvester Zugrav and Mendez established e-mail accounts to be used only to communicate requests and offers for bribe payments.   Sylvester Zugrav and Mendez also created password-protected documents for e-mail communications and used code words and false names.   Within the encrypted documents, Mendez adopted the moniker “Chuco” and Sylvester Zugrav used the codename “Jugo.”   They referred to cash as “literature.”
The case was investigated by the FBI and the Air Force Office of Special Investigations.   The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorneys Marquest J. Meeks and Edward P. Sullivan of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section, Assistant U.S. Attorney Carlos A. Esqueda of the District of Utah, and Trial Attorney Deborah Curtis of the National Security Division’s Counterespionage Section.

 

Former Owner of Salt Lake City Medical Equipment Supply Company Indicted and Three Company Employees Plead Guilty for Roles in Medicare Fraud Scheme

A former owner of a Salt Lake City medical equipment supply company has been indicted and three former company employees have pleaded guilty for allegedly engaging in a $20 million Medicare fraud scheme.

Acting Assistant Attorney General Mythili Raman of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney David B. Barlow of the District of Utah, Special Agent in Charge Mary Rook of the FBI’s Salt Lake City Field Office, Special Agent in Charge Gerry Roy of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General’s (HHS-OIG) Kansas City Regional Office, and Special Agent in Charge Janice M. Flores of the Defense Criminal Investigative Service’s (DCIS) Southwest Field Office made the announcement.

Jacob Kilgore, 34, of Fruit Heights, Utah, was indicted in the District of Utah on three counts of health care fraud, three counts of false statements relating to health care matters, and three counts of wire fraud.

According to court documents, Kilgore was the co-owner, vice president, and regional sales manager of Orbit Medical Inc. (Orbit), a durable medical equipment supplier located in Salt Lake City specializing in power wheelchairs.  From approximately September 2008 through June 2011, Kilgore allegedly directed a scheme to defraud Medicare by submitting false and fraudulent claims to Medicare for power wheelchairs.  Court documents allege that Kilgore and others falsified medical records – including power wheelchair prescriptions and chart notes obtained from physicians – to make it appear that beneficiaries qualified to receive power wheelchairs when they did not and that the claims otherwise met all Medicare requirements.  Kilgore and others then used these falsified documents to support false and fraudulent claims from Orbit to Medicare.

Additionally, former Orbit sales representatives Morgan Workman, 35, of Farmington, Utah; David Evans, 29, of South Jordan, Utah; and Hunter Hartman, 29, of Ladera Ranch, Calif., have each pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit health care fraud, based on the same alleged scheme to defraud Medicare.  They are awaiting sentencing.

The scheme allegedly resulted in more than $20 million in claims from Orbit to Medicare for power wheelchairs, of which Medicare paid more than $15 million.

The charges and allegations contained in the indictment are merely accusations, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

The case was investigated by the FBI, HHS-OIG and DCIS.  This case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Niall M. O’Donnell of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Y. Hirata of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Utah.

Florida Couple Pleads Guilty for Roles in Procurement Contract Bribery Scheme

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

A Florida couple who owned a military contracting company pleaded guilty today in federal court in Salt Lake City for their roles in a bribery and fraud scheme involving federal procurement contracts, announced Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney David B. Barlow for the District of Utah.

Sylvester Zugrav, 70, of Sarasota, Fla., pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bribery and procurement fraud.  His wife, Maria Zugrav, 67, also of Sarasota, pleaded guilty to misprision of a felony related to her efforts to conceal the conspiracy.  The Zugravs were charged in an indictment, returned on Oct. 12, 2011, along with Jose Mendez, 51, of Farr West, Utah, a procurement program manager for the U.S. Air Force Foreign Materials Acquisition Support Office (FMASO) at Hill Air Force Base, in Ogden, Utah.

Mendez was charged in the indictment with conspiracy, bribery and procurement fraud, and has since pleaded guilty to all charges and agreed to forfeit more than $180,000 he received as part of the bribery scheme and awaits sentencing.

According to court documents, the Zugravs owned Atlas International Trading Company, a business that contracted to provide foreign military materials to the U.S. government through FMASO.

In his plea agreement, Sylvester Zugrav admitted that, from 2008 through August 2011, he gave Mendez more than $180,000 in bribe payments, and offered Mendez more than $1.05 million in additional bribe payments contingent upon Atlas’s receipt of future contracts with FMASO.  In exchange for Sylvester Zugrav’s bribe payments and offers, Mendez ensured that Atlas and Sylvester Zugrav received favorable treatment in connection with procurement contracts, including, among other things, assisting Atlas in obtaining and maintaining procurement contracts; assisting Atlas in receiving payments on such contracts; and providing Atlas with contract bid or proposal information or source selection information before the award of procurement contracts.

In her plea agreement, Maria Zugrav admitted that she was aware of Sylvester Zugrav’s bribe payments to Mendez and assisted with concealment of the crime.  According to court records, Sylvester Zugrav provided bribe payments to Mendez in three ways: cash payments via Federal Express to Mendez’s residential address; in-person payments of cash and other things of value; and electronic wire transfers to a bank account in Mexico opened by and in the name of Mendez’s cousin.  Between November 2009 and August 2011, Sylvester Zugrav sent nine FedEx packages to Mendez’s home address.  Each package contained $5,000 in cash, except the last package, containing $3,000, which was seized by law enforcement.  Maria Zugrav assisted her husband and Mendez’s bribe scheme by limiting cash withdrawals from Atlas’ bank account to not more than $5,000 to avoid scrutiny by banking officials and law enforcement. According to the plea documents, on multiple occasions when Sylvester Zugrav and Mendez traveled to the same location, Sylvester Zugrav would give Mendez cash payments and other things of value.  From 2008 through August 2011, Sylvester Zugrav gave Mendez seven in-person cash payments ranging from $500 to $10,000, and purchased a laptop computer and software package worth over $2,900.

As Mendez admitted, during the course of the corrupt scheme, Mendez opened a foreign bank account so that Sylvester Zugrav could pay Mendez larger bribe payments.  Mendez asked his cousin in Mexico to open an account there.  After the account was opened by Mendez’s cousin, Maria Zugrav made wire transfers to the bank account located in Mexico in the name of Mendez’s cousin to avoid detection of the larger bribe payments by law enforcement.  From 2008 through August 2011, Maria Zugrav sent 10 wire transfers to the Mexico account ranging from $350 to $26,700.

Court records also describe additional steps taken to conceal the bribery scheme, including creating and using covert e-mail accounts, using encrypted documents, adopting false names and using code words.  For instance, to avoid detection of their e-mail communications, Sylvester Zugrav and Mendez established e-mail accounts to be used only to communicate requests and offers for bribe payments.  Sylvester Zugrav and Mendez also created password-protected documents for e-mail communications, and used code words and false names. Within the encrypted documents, Mendez adopted the moniker “Chuco” and Sylvester Zugrav used the codename “Chuco”  They referred to cash as “literature.”

Sylvester Zugrav faces a maximum potential penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine on the conspiracy count, and Maria Zugrav faces a maximum penalty of three years in prison and a $250,000 fine on the misprision count.  Sentencing for the Zugravs is scheduled for June 19, 2013.

The case was investigated by the FBI and the Air Force Office of Special Investigations.  The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorneys Marquest J. Meeks and Edward P. Sullivan of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section, Assistant U.S. Attorney Carlos A. Esqueda for the District of Utah and Trial Attorney Deborah Curtis of the National Security Division’s Counterespionage Section.

Former FBI Agent and Alleged Co-Conspirators Indicted for Scheme to Obstruct Federal Fraud Investigation

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, October 18, 2012
Former FBI Agent and Alleged Co-Conspirators Indicted for Scheme to Obstruct Federal Fraud Investigation

WASHINGTON – A federal grand jury in Salt Lake City today returned an 11-count indictment charging a former FBI special agent and two alleged accomplices with a scheme to use the agent’s official position to derail a federal investigation into the conduct of one of the alleged conspirators.  The charges were announced by Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney for the District of Utah David B. Barlow and Department of Justice Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz.

The indictment charges former FBI special agent Robert G. Lustyik Jr., 50, of Sleepy Hollow, N.Y.; Michael L. Taylor, 51, of Harvard, Mass., the principal of Boston-based American International Security Corporation (AISC); and Johannes W. Thaler, 49, of New Fairfield, Conn., each with one count of conspiracy, eight counts of honest services wire fraud, one count of obstructing justice and one count of obstructing an agency proceeding.

“According to the indictment, while active in the FBI, former Special Agent Lustyik used his position in an attempt to stave off the criminal investigation of a business partner with whom he was pursuing lucrative security and energy contracts,” said Assistant Attorney General Breuer.  “He allegedly acted through a childhood friend to secure promises of cash, purported medical expenses and business proceeds in exchange for abusing his position as an FBI agent.  The alleged conduct is outrageous, and we will do everything we can to ensure that justice is done in this case.”

DOJ Inspector General Horowitz stated:  “Law enforcement officers are sworn to uphold the law.  Agents who would sell their badges and impede the administration of justice will be vigorously pursued.”

According to the indictment, Robert Lustyik was an FBI special agent until September 2012, assigned to counterintelligence work in White Plains, N.Y.  The indictment also states that from at least June 2011, the three alleged conspirators had a business relationship involving the pursuit of contracts for security services, electric power and energy development, among other things, in the Middle East, Africa and elsewhere.

The indictment alleges that in September 2011, Taylor learned of a federal criminal investigation, begun in Utah in 2010, into whether Taylor, his business and others committed fraud in the award and performance of a contract with the U.S. Department of Defense.

Soon thereafter, Taylor allegedly began to give and offer things of value to Lustyik in exchange for Lustyik’s agreement to use his official position to impair and impede the Utah investigation.  The indictment also alleges that Thaler, a childhood friend of Lustyik’s, served as a conduit between Taylor and Lustyik, passing information and things of value.

Specifically, the indictment charges that Taylor offered Lustyik a $200,000 cash payment; money purportedly for the medical expenses of Lustyik’s minor child; and a share in the proceeds of several anticipated contracts worth millions of dollars.

According to the indictment, Lustyik used his official FBI position to impede the Utah investigation by, among other things, designating Taylor as an FBI confidential source, texting and calling the Utah investigators and prosecutors to dissuade them from charging Taylor and attempting to interview potential witnesses and targets in the Utah investigation.  As alleged in the indictment, Lustyik wrote to Taylor that he was going to interview one of Taylor’s co-defendants and “blow the doors off this thing.”  Referring to the Utah investigation, Lustyik also allegedly assured Taylor that he would not stop in his “attempt to sway this your way.”

According to the indictment, Lustyik, Taylor and Thaler attempted to conceal the full extent of Lustyik’s relationship with Taylor from the Utah prosecutors and agents, including by making and planning to make material misrepresentations and omissions to federal law enforcement involved in the investigation of Taylor.

For example, the indictment alleges that on Sept. 8, 2012, after Taylor was searched at the border and his computer seized, Lustyik sent a text message to Thaler, stating: “You might have to save me and testify that only you r doing business.”  Nine days later, according to the indictment, Thaler told federal law enforcement agents – in a voluntary, recorded interview – that Lustyik was not involved in Taylor’s and Thaler’s business.

The pair also allegedly used an email “dead drop” to avoid leaving a record of their interactions and used the names of football teams and nicknames as part of their coded communications.

Taylor and Lustyik were both previously arrested on prior criminal complaints in this case.  Taylor has been detained pending trial and Lustyik received a $2 million bond.  Thaler is expected to surrender to authorities tomorrow.

If convicted, the defendants each face a maximum potential penalty of five years in prison on the conspiracy charge, 20 years in prison on each of the wire fraud charges, 10 years in prison on the obstruction of justice charge and five years in prison on the obstruction of an agency proceeding charge.  Each charge also carries a maximum $250,000 fine, or twice the gross gain or loss from the offense.  The indictment also seeks forfeiture of any proceeds traceable to the conspiracy, wire fraud and obstruction of justice offenses.

The case is being investigated by the Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General and prosecuted by Trial Attorneys Kevin Driscoll and Maria Lerner of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section; Acting Deputy Chief Pamela Hicks, Acting Assistant Deputy Chief Jeannette Gunderson and Trial Attorney Ann Marie Blaylock of the Criminal Division’s Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section; and Assistant U.S. Attorney Carlos Esqueda.

The charges and allegations contained in the indictment are merely accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.