The medical biller of a Chicago-area visiting physician practice was sentenced today to 45 months in prison for her role in a $4 million health care fraud scheme.
Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Zachary T. Fardon of the Northern District of Illinois, Special Agent in Charge Lamont Pugh III of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services-Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG) in Chicago and Acting Special Agent in Charge John A. Brown of the FBI’s Chicago Division made the announcement.
Mary Talaga, 54, of Elmwood Park, Illinois, was convicted in May 2015 following a jury trial of one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud, six counts of health care fraud and three counts of false statements relating to a health care matter. In addition to imposing the prison term, U.S. District Judge Gary Feinerman of the Northern District of Illinois ordered Talaga to pay approximately $1 million in restitution.
From 2007 to 2011, Talaga was the primary medical biller at Medicall Physicians Group Ltd., a physician practice that visited patients in their homes and prescribed home health care. The evidence at trial showed that Talaga and her co-conspirators routinely billed Medicare for overseeing patient care plans (a service known as “care plan oversight” or CPO) when, in fact, the doctors at Medicall rarely provided the service. The evidence at trial also showed that Talaga and her co-conspirators billed Medicare for other services that were never provided, including services rendered to patients who were deceased, services purportedly provided by medical professionals no longer employed by Medicall, and services purportedly provided by medical professionals who, based on billing records, worked over 24 hours per day.
According to the evidence presented at trial, during the five-year conspiracy, Medicall submitted bills to Medicare for more than $4 million in services that were never provided. Medicare paid more than $1 million on those claims.
Rick Brown, 58, of Rockford, Illinois, and Roger A. Lucero, 64, of Elmhurst, Illinois, were also convicted of offenses based on their roles in the scheme. Brown was convicted along with Talaga at trial and was previously sentenced to serve more than seven years in prison. Lucero, Medicall’s Medical Director, pleaded guilty and will be sentenced at a later date.
The case was investigated jointly by HHS-OIG and the FBI, 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 of the Northern District of Illinois. This case was prosecuted by Trial Attorney Brooke Harper and Senior Trial Attorney Jon Juenger of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section.
Since its inception in March 2007, the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, now operating in nine cities across the country, has charged over 2,300 defendants who collectively have billed the Medicare program for over $7 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.