The sentences were announced by Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division; U.S. Attorney Wifredo A. Ferrer of the Southern District of Florida; Michael B. Steinbach, Acting Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Miami Field Office; and Special Agent-in-Charge Christopher B. Dennis of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG), Office of Investigations Miami office.
U.S. District Judge Cecilia M. Altonaga sentenced Serena Joslin, 32, of Looneyville, W.Va., to 63 months in prison, following her previous guilty plea to conspiracy to commit health care fraud. Raymond Rivero, 55, Daniel Martinez, 46, and Ivon Perez, 50, all of Miami, were each sentenced to 28 months in prison. All three had previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to violate the anti-kickback statute.
According to court documents, HCSN operated community mental health centers both in Miami and North Carolina, including partial hospitalization programs (PHP) – a form of intensive treatment for severe mental illness. HCSN obtained Medicare beneficiaries to attend HCSN for purported PHP treatment that was unnecessary and, in many instances, not provided.
In Miami, HCSN obtained beneficiaries by paying kickbacks to owners and operators of assisted living facilities (ALF) or by otherwise recruiting them from the facilities and from nursing homes. Rivero, Martinez and Perez admitted during their guilty pleas to referring Medicare beneficiaries to HCSN in exchange for cash bribes. Rivero, former owner of Miami-based God Is First ALF; Martinez, former owner of Homestead, Fla.-based Mi Renacer ALF; and Perez, former owner of Homestead-based Kayleen and Denis Care Corp., are no longer permitted to operate such facilities as a condition of their guilty pleas.
According to court documents, ALF residents referred to HCSN by Rivero, Martinez and Perez were not qualified to be placed in PHP and were only selected because they had Medicare or state of Florida Medicaid benefits. In some cases, ALF patients suffered from dementia, Alzheimer’s disease or mental retardation, or were otherwise unable to benefit from mental health services.
According to court documents, Joslin, a licensed psychologist, was hired by HCSN in North Carolina in April of 2010 as a clinical coordinator and later promoted to clinical director. In those roles, she conspired with other HCSN employees to fabricate medical documents to substantiate alleged PHP treatment that was medically unnecessary and, in many instances, not even provided to the beneficiaries. Joslin admitted that many of the HCSN patients were unqualified for the PHP program because they suffered from conditions such as mental retardation and dementia, and that she directed therapists to fabricate medical records to support HCSN’s fraudulent billing to the Medicare program. Joslin was also required to surrender her North Carolina license to provide mental health treatment as part of her plea agreement.
According to court documents, from 2004 through 2011, HCSN billed Medicare and the Florida Medicaid program approximately $63 million for purported mental health services.
In addition to the prison terms, Judge Altonaga sentenced Joslin, Rivero, Martinez and Perez each to serve three years of supervised release, and ordered them to pay $4,464,728; $90,896; $76,358; and $89,245 in restitution, respectively.
The cases are being prosecuted by Special Trial Attorney William Parente and Trial Attorney Allan J. Medina of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section. The cases were investigated by the FBI and HHS-OIG and were brought as part of the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, supervised by the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida.
Since its inception in March 2007, the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, now operating in nine cities across the country, has charged more than 1,480 defendants who have collectively billed the Medicare program for more than $4.8 billion. In addition, HHS’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, working in conjunction with HHS-OIG, is taking steps to increase accountability and decrease the presence of fraudulent providers.