Former Audi Manager Charged in Connection With Conspiracy to Cheat U.S. Emissions Tests

Thursday, July 6, 2017

A former Audi manager has been charged via criminal complaint for his role in the long-running conspiracy to defraud U.S. regulators and customers by implementing software specifically designed to cheat U.S. emissions tests in thousands of Audi “clean diesel” vehicles.

Acting Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Blanco of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jean E. Williams of the Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, and Acting U.S. Attorney Daniel L. Lemisch of the Eastern District of Michigan made the announcement.

Giovanni Pamio, 60, an Italian citizen, is charged with conspiracy to defraud the U.S., wire fraud, and violation of the Clean Air Act. Pamio was formerly head of Thermodynamics within Audi’s Diesel Engine Development Department in Neckarsulm, Germany. According to the complaint, from in or about 2006 until in or about November 2015, Pamio led a team of engineers responsible for designing emissions control systems to meet emissions standards, including for nitrogen oxides (“NOx”), for diesel vehicles in the U.S.

According to the complaint, after Pamio and coconspirators realized that it was impossible to calibrate a diesel engine that would meet NOx emissions standards within the design constraints imposed by other departments at the company, Pamio directed Audi employees to design and implement software functions to cheat the standard U.S. emissions tests. Pamio and coconspirators deliberately failed to disclose the software functions, and they knowingly misrepresented that the vehicles complied with U.S. NOx emissions standards, the complaint alleges.

Audi’s parent company, Volkswagen AG (VW), previously pleaded guilty to three felony counts connected to cheating U.S. emissions standards. The company was ordered to pay a $2.8 billion criminal fine at its sentencing on April 21, 2017.

A complaint is merely an allegation and all defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

The FBI and EPA-CID investigated the case. This case is being prosecuted by Securities and Financial Fraud Chief Benjamin D. Singer and Trial Attorneys David Fuhr and Christopher Fenton of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section, Senior Trial Attorney Jennifer Blackwell and Trial Attorney Joel La Bissonniere of the Environment and Natural Resources Division’s Environmental Crime Section, and White Collar Crime Unit Chief John K. Neal and Assistant United States Attorney Timothy J. Wyse of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Michigan. The Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs also assisted in the case.

Health Care Clinic Director Sentenced for Role in $63 Million Health Care Fraud Scheme

A former health care clinic director and licensed clinical psychologist at defunct health provider Health Care Solutions Network Inc. (HCSN) was sentenced today in Miami to serve 135 months in prison for her central role in a fraud scheme that resulted in more than $63 million in fraudulent claims to Medicare and Florida Medicaid.

Acting Assistant Attorney General Mythili Raman of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division; U.S. Attorney Wifredo A. Ferrer of the Southern District of Florida; Special Agent in Charge Michael B. Steinbach of the FBI’s Miami Field Office; and Special Agent in Charge Christopher B. Dennis of the Miami office of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’s Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG) made the announcement.

Alina Feas, 53, of Miami, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Cecilia M. Altonaga in the Southern District of Florida.  In addition to her prison term, Feas was sentenced to three years of supervised release and ordered to pay $24.1 million in restitution.

On May 7, 2013, Feas pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud and one substantive health care fraud count. During the course of the conspiracy, Feas was employed as a therapist and clinical director of HCSN’s Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP).  A PHP is a form of intensive treatment for severe mental illness.          HCSN of Florida (HCSN-FL) operated community mental health centers at two locations.  In her capacity as clinical director, Feas oversaw the entire clinical program and supervised therapists and other HCSN-FL personnel.  She also conducted group therapy sessions when therapists were absent, and she was aware that HCSN-FL paid illegal kickbacks to owners and operators of Miami-Dade County Assisted Living Facilities (ALF) in exchange for patient referral information to be used to submit false and fraudulent claims to Medicare and Medicaid.  Feas also knew that many of the ALF referral patients were ineligible for PHP services because many patients suffered from mental retardation, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Feas submitted claims to Medicare for individual therapy she purportedly provided to HCSN-FL patients using her personal Medicare provider number, knowing that HCSN-FL was simultaneously billing the same patients for PHP services.  She continued to bill Medicare under her personal provider number while an HCSN community health center in North Carolina (HCSN-NC) simultaneously submitted false and fraudulent PHP claims.

Feas was also aware that HCSN-FL personnel were fabricating patient medical records. Many of these medical records were created weeks or months after the patients were admitted to HCSN-FL for purported PHP treatment and were used to support false and fraudulent billing to government-sponsored health care benefit programs, including Medicare and Florida Medicaid.  During her employment at HCSN-FL, Feas signed fabricated PHP therapy notes and other medical records used to support false claims to government-sponsored health care programs.

At HCSN-NC, Feas was aware that her co-conspirators were fabricating medical records to support the fraudulent claims she was causing to be submitted to Medicare on behalf of HCSN-NC. She knew that a majority of the fabricated notes were created at the HCSN-FL facility for patients admitted into the PHP at HCSN-NC.  In some instances, Feas signed therapy notes and other medical records even though she never provided services in HCSN-NC’s PHP.

From 2004 through 2011, HCSN billed Medicare and the Medicaid program more than $63 million for purported mental health services.

This case is being investigated by the FBI and HHS-OIG and was 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.  This case was prosecuted by Trial Attorneys Allan J. Medina, former Special Trial Attorney Allan J. Medina, and Deputy Chief Benjamin D. Singer 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 more than 1,500 defendants who have collectively billed the Medicare program for more than $5 billion.  In addition, HHS’s Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, working in conjunction with HHS-OIG, is taking steps to increase accountability and decrease the presence of fraudulent providers.

Former Senior Executive of ArthroCare Corp. Pleads Guilty in $400 Million Securities Fraud Scheme

A former senior executive of ArthroCare Corp., a publicly traded medical device company based in Austin, Texas, pleaded guilty for his role in a scheme to defraud the company’s shareholders and members of the investing public by falsely inflating ArthroCare’s earnings, announced Acting Assistant Attorney Mythili Raman of the Department of Justice’s Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney Robert Pitman of the Western District of Texas. The plea was taken under seal on June 24, 2013, and unsealed late yesterday.

John Raffle, 45, of Austin, pleaded guilty before U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark Lane in Austin to conspiracy to commit securities, mail and wire fraud and two false statements violations.  Raffle was the senior vice president of Strategic Business Units at ArthroCare, overseeing all sales and marketing staff at the company.  Raffle admitted that he and other co-conspirators falsely inflated ArthroCare’s sales and revenue through a series of end-of-quarter transactions involving ArthroCare’s distributors and that he and other co-conspirators caused ArthroCare to file a Form 10-K for 2007 and Form 10-Q for the first quarter of 2008 with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that materially misrepresented ArthroCare’s quarterly and annual sales, revenues, expenses and earnings.  As part of his plea, Raffle agreed that his conduct and the conduct of his co-conspirators caused more than $400 million in losses to shareholders.

According to court documents, Raffle and others determined the type and amount of product to be shipped to distributors – notably ArthroCare’s largest distributor, DiscoCare Inc. –  based on ArthroCare’s need to meet sales forecasts, rather than the distributors’ actual orders. Raffle and others then caused ArthroCare to “park” millions of dollars worth of ArthroCare’s medical devices at its distributors at the end of each relevant quarter. ArthroCare would then report these shipments as sales in its quarterly and annual filings at the time of the shipment, enabling the company to meet or exceed internal and external earnings forecasts.

According to the superseding information, DiscoCare agreed to accept shipment of approximately $37 million of product in exchange for substantial, upfront cash commissions, extended payment terms and the ability to return product, as well as other special conditions, allowing ArthroCare to falsely inflate its revenue by tens of millions of dollars.  To conceal the fact that DiscoCare owed ArthroCare a substantial amount of money on the unused inventory, Raffle and others caused ArthroCare to acquire DiscoCare on Dec. 31, 2007.

According to court documents, between December 2005 and December 2008, ArthroCare’s shareholders held more than 25 million shares of ArthroCare stock.  On July 21, 2008, after ArthroCare announced publicly that it would be restating its previously reported financial results from the third quarter 2006 through the first quarter 2008 to reflect the results of an internal investigation, the price of ArthroCare shares dropped from $40.03 to $23.21 per share.  The drop in ArthroCare’s share price caused an immediate loss in shareholder value of more than $400 million.

Raffle faces a maximum prison sentence of five years in prison for each charge.  A sentencing date has yet to be scheduled.  Raffle’s co-defendant David Applegate pleaded guilty on May 9, 2013.  ArthroCare’s Chief Executive Officer, Michael Baker, and Chief Financial Officer, Michael Gluk, were indicted as part of the same alleged securities fraud scheme on July 16, 2013.  An indictment is merely a charge, and the defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty.

This case was investigated by the FBI’s Austin office.  The case is being prosecuted by Deputy Chief Benjamin D. Singer and Trial Attorneys Henry P. Van Dyck and William Chang of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section.  The Department recognizes the substantial assistance of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Supervisor of $63 Million Health Care Fraud Scheme Sentenced in Florida to 10 Years in Prison

A former supervisor at defunct health provider Health Care Solutions Network Inc. (HCSN) was sentenced today in Miami to serve 10 years in prison for her central role in a fraud scheme that resulted in more than $63 million in fraudulent claims to Medicare and Florida Medicaid.

The sentence was announced by Acting Assistant Attorney General Mythili Raman of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division; U.S. Attorney Wifredo A. Ferrer of the Southern District of Florida; Michael B. Steinbach, 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.

Wondera Eason, 51, of Miami, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Cecilia M. Altonaga in the Southern District of Florida.  In addition to her prison term, Eason was sentenced to serve three years of supervised release and ordered to pay $14,985,876 in restitution.

On April 25, 2013, a federal jury found Eason guilty of conspiracy to commit health care fraud.

Eason was employed as the director of medical records at HCSN’s partial hospitalization program (PHP).  A PHP is a form of intensive treatment for severe mental illness. In Florida, HCSN operated community mental health centers at two locations. After stealing millions from Medicare and Medicaid in Florida, HCSN’s owner, Armando Gonzalez, expanded the scheme to North Carolina, opening a third HCSN location in Hendersonville, N.C.

Evidence at trial showed that at all three locations, Eason, a certified medical records technician, oversaw the alteration, fabrication and forgery of thousands of documents that purported to support the fraudulent claims HCSN submitted to Medicare and Medicaid.  Many of these medical records were created weeks or months after the patients were admitted to HCSN facilities in Florida for purported PHP treatment and were utilized to support false and fraudulent billing to government-sponsored health care benefit programs, including Medicare and Medicaid. Eason directed therapists to fabricate documents, and she also forged the signatures of therapists and others on documents that she was in charge of maintaining.  Eason interacted with Medicare and Medicaid auditors, providing them with false and fraudulent documents, while certifying the documents were accurate.

The “therapy” at HCSN oftentimes consisted of nothing more than patients watching Disney movies, playing bingo and having barbeques. Eason directed therapists to remove any references to these recreational activities in the medical records.

According to evidence at trial, Eason was aware that HCSN in Florida paid illegal kickbacks to owners and operators of Miami-Dade County assisted living facilities (ALF) in exchange for patient referral information to be used to submit false and fraudulent claims to Medicare and Medicaid.  Eason also knew that many of the ALF referral patients were ineligible for PHP services because many patients suffered from mental retardation, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

From 2004 through 2011, HCSN billed Medicare and the Medicaid program more than $63 million for purported mental health services.

Fifteen defendants have been charged and have pleaded guilty or been convicted by a jury for their roles in the HCSN health care fraud scheme.

This case is being investigated by the FBI and HHS-OIG and was 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.  This case was prosecuted by Trial Attorney Allan J. Medina, former Special Trial Attorney William Parente and Deputy Chief Benjamin D. Singer 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 more than 1,500 defendants who have collectively billed the Medicare program for more than $5 billion.  In addition, HHS’s Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, working in conjunction with HHS-OIG, is taking steps to increase accountability and decrease the presence of fraudulent providers.

 

Former Senior Executive of Arthrocare Corp. Pleads Guilty in $400 Million Securities Fraud Scheme

A former senior executive of Texas-based ArthroCare Corp., a publicly traded medical device company, pleaded guilty today for his role in a scheme to defraud the company’s shareholders and members of the investing public by falsely inflating ArthroCare’s earnings, announced Acting Assistant Attorney General Mythili Raman of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney Robert Pitman for the Western District of Texas.

David Applegate, 54, pleaded guilty before U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark Lane in Austin, Texas, to two counts of a superseding information which charges him with conspiracy to commit securities, mail and wire fraud and with a false statements violation. Applegate was the senior vice president in charge of ArthroCare’s Spine Division.  Applegate admitted that he and other co-conspirators inflated falsely ArthroCare’s sales and revenue through a series of end-of-quarter transactions involving ArthroCare’s distributors and that he and other co-conspirators caused ArthroCare to file a Form 10-K for 2007 with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that materially misrepresented ArthroCare’s quarterly and annual sales, revenues, expenses and earnings.

According to court documents, Applegate and others determined the type and amount of product to be shipped to distributors, notably ArthroCare’s largest distributor, DiscoCare Inc.,  based on ArthroCare’s need to meet sales forecasts, rather than the distributors’ actual orders. Applegate and others then caused ArthroCare to “park” millions of dollars’ worth of ArthroCare’s medical devices at its distributors at the end of each relevant quarter. ArthroCare would then report these shipments as sales in its quarterly and annual filings at the time of the shipment, enabling the company to meet or exceed internal and external earnings forecasts.

According to the superseding information, DiscoCare agreed to accept shipment of approximately $37 million of product in exchange for substantial, upfront cash commissions, extended payment terms and the ability to return product, as well as other special conditions, allowing ArthroCare to inflate falsely its revenue by tens of millions of dollars.  To conceal the fact that DiscoCare owed ArthroCare a substantial amount of money on the unused inventory, ArthroCare, with Applegate’s knowledge, caused ArthroCare to acquire DiscoCare on Dec. 31, 2007.

According to court documents, between December 2005 and December 2008, ArthroCare’s shareholders held more than 25 million shares of ArthroCare stock. On July 21, 2008, after ArthroCare announced publicly that it would be restating its previously reported financial results from the third quarter 2006 through the first quarter 2008 to reflect the results of an internal investigation, the price of ArthroCare shares dropped from $40.03 to $23.21 per share. The drop in ArthroCare’s share price caused an immediate loss in shareholder value of more than $400 million.

Applegate faces a maximum prison sentence of five years in prison for each charge. A sentencing date has yet to be scheduled.

David Applegate’s co-defendant John Raffle is scheduled for trial on July 15, 2013. Defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty at trial.

This case was investigated by the FBI’s Austin Field Office. The case is being prosecuted by Deputy Chief Benjamin D. Singer and Trial Attorney Henry P. Van Dyck of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section. The Department recognizes the substantial assistance of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.