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.

Celgene Agrees to Pay $280 Million to Resolve Fraud Allegations Related to Promotion of Cancer Drugs For Uses Not Approved by FDA

Monday, July 24, 2017

LOS ANGELES – Celgene Corp., a manufacturer of pharmaceuticals headquartered in Summit, New Jersey, has agreed to pay $280 million to settle fraud allegations related to the promotion of two cancer treatment drugs for uses not approved by the Food and Drug Administration, the Justice Department announced today.

Celgene agreed to pay the settlement to resolve a “whistleblower” lawsuit that alleged it had violated the federal False Claims Act by submitting false claims to Medicare. The lawsuit also alleged that Celgene violated the laws of 28 states and the District of Columbia by submitting fraudulent claims to state health care programs, including California’s Medi-Cal program.

Pursuant to the settlement, which was finalized last week, Celgene will pay $259.3 million to the United States and $20.7 million to the 28 states and the District of Columbia. California will receive $4.7 million, more than any other state.

The settlement resolves allegations brought in a “whistleblower” lawsuit that Celgene promoted two cancer drugs – Thalomid and Revlimid – for uses that were not approved by the FDA and not covered by federal health care programs. The allegations included the use of false and misleading statements about the drugs, and paying kickbacks to physicians to induce them to prescribe the drugs.

“Patients deserve to know their doctors are prescribing drugs that are likely to provide effective treatment, rather than drugs marketed aggressively by pharmaceutical companies,” said Acting United States Attorney Sandra R. Brown.

The whistleblower lawsuit was filed in United States District Court by Beverly Brown, who was employed as a sales manager by Celgene, under the qui tam provisions of the False Claims Act and similar laws of the District of Columbia and the 28 states included in the lawsuit. Under the False Claims Act, private citizens can bring suit on behalf of the United States and share in any recovery. The United States may intervene in the lawsuit, or, as in this case, the whistleblower may pursue the action.

“Today’s recovery again spotlights the importance of the False Claims Act in preserving precious government health plan resources,” said Christian J. Schrank, Special Agent in Charge for the Office of Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “This invaluable law enlists all in the battle against fraudulent health care schemes.

The case, United States ex rel. Brown v. Celgene Corp., CV10-3165, was monitored by the United States Attorney’s Office, the Civil Division’s Commercial Litigation Branch, and HHS-OIG.

The claims settled by this agreement are allegations only, and the defendant did not admit liability in settling the action.

As Part of National Health Care Fraud Takedown, Federal Prosecutors in Los Angeles Charge 14 Defendants in Fraud Schemes that Allegedly Cost Public Healthcare Programs nearly $150 Million

Thursday, July 13, 2017

LOS ANGELES – In the largest-ever health care fraud enforcement action by federal prosecutors, 14 defendants – including doctors, nurses and other licensed medical professionals – have been charged in the Central District of California for allegedly participating in health care fraud schemes that caused approximately $147 million in losses.

The defendants charged locally are among hundreds of people charged across the United States in cases that cumulatively allege approximately $1.3 billion in false billings. The nationwide sweep includes charges against more than 120 defendants – some of whom are doctors – who allegedly prescribed and distributed opioids and other dangerous narcotics.

In the Central District of California, 14 defendants were charged for their roles in schemes to defraud health insurance programs such as Medicare. The cases allege health care fraud and kickback schemes involving compounded drugs, home health services, physical therapy, acupuncture, Medicare Part D prescription drugs, diagnostic sleep studies and hospice care.

“Health care fraud schemes such as these threaten the vital trust between a patient and his or her health care provider, undermine the integrity of our health care system, and cost all Americans billions of dollars,” said Acting United States Attorney Sandra R. Brown. “Today’s announcement serves as a clear warning that we will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to identify and hold accountable health care professionals who commit these crimes.”

The defendants charged locally include four physicians, including Dr. Jeffrey Olsen, who was charged with illegally prescribing controlled substances, including the opiate oxycodone.

The 57-year-old Olsen surrendered to authorities on Tuesday after being indicted last week by a federal grand jury on 34 counts of illegally prescribing controlled drugs, including oxycodone, and one count of false statement on a DEA registration application. Olsen, a resident of Laguna Beach, allegedly sold prescriptions to addicts and drug dealers in exchange for fixed cash fees, without any medical basis for the prescriptions.

During the investigation, Olsen also sold hundreds of prescriptions to addicts in other states, such as Oregon, without ever seeing the “patients” for an in-person examination. In text messages to these out-of-state customers, Olsen allegedly told customers that, in exchange for exorbitant fees as high as $3,000, he would write prescriptions for whatever drug they wanted, and that he would never check whether they were actually taking the prescribed drugs or whether they were getting additional narcotic prescriptions from other doctors. Olsen allegedly sold more than 1.2 million pills of narcotics, which were almost entirely at maximum strength, in addition to hundreds of thousands of pills of other controlled drugs such as the sedatives Xanax and Soma. The case against Olsen is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Ben Barron and Bryant Yang.

In another local case involving a physician, Dr. Thomas S. Powers and Anthony Paduano were arrested Tuesday on healthcare fraud charges that allegedly bilked TRICARE.

The indictment in this case alleges that Powers, of Santa Ana, authorized prescriptions for compounded medications for patients he never examined. Under an agreement, Paduano, of Newport Beach, allegedly paid Powers $200 for each prescription. Paduano received approximately $1.2 million for referring the prescriptions to a local pharmacy that billed TRICARE more than $4.8 million and was paid more than $3.1 million. This case is being handled by Assistant United States Attorneys Mark Aveis, Paul Stern and Cassie Palmer.

“Americans already struggling with health care issues and rising premiums are further burdened with each dollar lost to fraud,” said Deirdre Fike, the Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office. “The losses estimated in Los Angeles for this operation alone are staggering as the abundance of health care fraud schemes in southern California adds considerably to this nationwide crime issue. By collaborating with our partners, we will continue to hold accountable those who get rich by targeting federal health care programs with fraud.”

“Those who would enrich themselves through healthcare fraud – including billing for unnecessary services, accepting kickbacks, and billing for prescriptions that were never provided – are putting profits over patients, stealing from government health programs and taxpayers alike,” said Special Agent in Charge Christian Schrank, of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General. “These operations show yet again our commitment to working with our federal and state law enforcement partners. In fighting this epidemic, we must all stand together.”

“IRS Criminal Investigation will not stand still while criminals line their pockets with illicit proceeds obtained from publicly funded health care programs,” said IRS Criminal Investigation Special Agent in Charge R. Damon Rowe. “It depletes scarce taxpayer dollars and will not be tolerated. IRS Criminal Investigation will continue to work with our federal and state law enforcement partners to bring justice to those individuals who prey on the nation’s health care system for their own personal greed.”

“Our office, in partnership with our fellow investigative agencies, will continue to uncompromisingly investigate and bring to justice the people who perpetrate these criminal acts,” said Amtrak Inspector General Tom Howard. We will remain vigilant in protecting Amtrak employees, retirees, and their dependents, by ensuring our health care dollars are not wasted on fraudulent providers,”

“The Department of Labor – Employee Benefits Security Administration will continue to vigorously investigate wrongdoers committing health care fraud against employer sponsored health plans in Southern California which also impact TRICARE, Medicare, Medicaid” said Crisanta Johnson, DOL-EBSA’s Los Angeles Regional Office.

The other cases filed in federal court in Los Angeles as part of the nationwide sweep are:

  • Aniceto Baliton, of Diamond Bar, co-owner and managing employee of Bliss Hospice in Glendora, was charged yesterday with one count of conspiracy to pay and receive illegal remunerations for health care referrals. The charge stems from Baliton’s role in a fraud scheme to pay kickbacks in exchange for Medicare beneficiaries referred to Bliss and billed by Bliss for hospice services. As part of the fraud scheme, Baliton and the co-owners of the hospice also agreed to generate cash for the illegal kickbacks by disguising such monies as payroll expenses. Based on the referrals that Baliton and his co-conspirators obtained through illegal kickbacks, Bliss submitted claims to Medicare and was paid approximately $2.4 million. The case is being handled by DOJ Trial Attorney Claire Yan.
  • Aleksandr Suris and Maxim Sverdlov, co-owners and operators of Royal Care Pharmacy in Los Angeles, were arrested Monday on charges related to a scheme that allegedly brought in more than $41.5 million from Medicare and CIGNA. The indictment in this case charges Suris with two counts of conspiracy to commit health care fraud and 10 counts of health care fraud, and Sverdlov with one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud and four counts of health care fraud. The defendants allegedly submitted fraudulent bills for prescription drugs that were never filled by the pharmacy or were not provided to the person to whom the drug was prescribed. The case is being handled by DOJ Trial Attorney Robyn N. Pullio.
  • Dr. Kanagasabai Kanakeswaran was indicted late last month on one count of conspiracy to pay and receive kickbacks for health care referrals and four counts of receiving kickbacks for health care referrals. The charges arise from a kickback conspiracy at a home health company called Star Home Health Resources. The owners and operators of Star allegedly paid kickbacks to referring physicians, including Dr. Kanakeswaran, in exchange for the physicians referring Medicare beneficiaries to receive home health services from Star. The indictment alleges that from May 2008 to May 2016, Star was paid $4,157,311 from Medicare based on home health services that Dr. Kanakeswaran referred to Star in exchange for illegal kickbacks. The case is being handled by Assistant United States Attorney Alex Porter and DOJ Trial Attorney Claire Yan.
  • Jamen Oliver Griffith and Damon Glover were charged late last month with conspiring to solicit, receive and pay illegal kickbacks for health care referrals. The charges stem from defendants’ role in a scheme involving undisclosed payments for generating and steering prescriptions of compounded drugs to Valley View Drugs, Inc., a pharmacy located in La Mirada. As set forth in plea agreements that have been filed in court, Griffith and Glover owned and operated Western Medical Solutions, a “marketing” company that paid non-employee “marketers” to generate compounded drug prescription referrals for Valley View. Commission payments to “marketers” for prescription referrals were based on a percentage of the amount insurance companies reimbursed Valley View. Health insurers ultimately reimbursed Valley View $13,860,083 for prescriptions generated by WMS-affiliated marketers. In turn, Valley View paid WMS approximately $7,622,864 for the prescription referrals. The case is being handled by Assistant United States Attorney Ashwin Janakiram.
  • Xiao “Kimi” Gudmundsen, a licensed acupuncturist and the owner of Healthy Life Acupuncture Center, Inc., which operated at two sites in Los Angeles and Riverside, was charged on June 22, with eight counts of health care fraud and three counts of money laundering. The charges arise from allegations that Gudmundsen recruited Amtrak employees to visit Healthy Life and then, among other things, billed the Amtrak health care plan for acupuncture and other services that were not actually provided. The indictment also charges that Gudmundsen laundered payments received from Amtrak for the false bills through various accounts, including accounts held in the names of relatives. Also charged in the indictment are Suzana Cortez, a Healthy Life employee (who faces five counts health care fraud) and Gladys Perez, an Amtrak employee (who faces two counts of health care fraud). This case is being handled by Assistant United States Attorney Poonam Kumar.
  • James Chen pleaded guilty on June 19 to a health care fraud charge related to his pharmacy processing and billing TRICARE for approximately $62 million for fraudulent prescriptions for compounded medications after Chen paid more than 50 percent in referral fees to marketers. The case is being handled by Assistant United States Attorneys Mark Aveis, Paul Stern and Cassie Palmer.

Indictments and criminal informations contain allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed to be innocent until and unless proven guilty in court.

The cases from the Central District of California are the result of investigations conducted by the United States Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General; the Federal Bureau of Investigation; the Defense Criminal Investigative Service; the Drug Enforcement Administration; IRS Criminal Investigation; the Office of Personnel Management, Office of Inspector General; the Veterans Administration, Office of the Inspector General; the Department of Labor – Employee Benefits Security Administration; the California Department of Insurance, Fraud Division; the United States Postal Service, Office of the Inspector General; Amtrak’s Office of the Inspector General; the California Board of Pharmacy; California’s Department of Health Care Services; and the California Department of Justice.

The local cases were filed by Assistant United States Attorneys and Trial Attorneys with the Justice Department’s Medicare Fraud Strike Force. The 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.

Remarks about Massive Medicare Fraud Strike Force Takedown

Remarks by Acting Assistant Attorney General David A. O’Neil for the Medicare Fraud Strike Force Takedown

WASHINGTON ~ Tuesday, May 13, 2014
In today’s nationwide takedown, scores of defendants were arrested across the country for engaging in health care fraud – to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars in fraudulent bills to Medicare.   Among the defendants charged today were doctors, home health care providers, doctor’s assistants, pharmacy owners and medical supply company executives.   The crimes charged represent the face of health care fraud today – doctors billing for services that were never rendered, supply companies providing motorized wheelchairs that were never needed, recruiters paying kickbacks to get Medicare billing numbers of patients.   The fraud was rampant, it was brazen, and it permeated every part of the Medicare system.

But law enforcement is striking back.   In Brooklyn, Tampa, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, and right here in Miami, 90 defendants were charged today with having submitted over $260 million in fraudulent claims to Medicare.   Using cutting-edge, data-driven investigative techniques to find fraud, we are bringing fraudsters to justice and saving the American taxpayers billions of dollars.   Overall, since its inception, the Department of Justice’s Medicare Strike Force has charged nearly 1,900 individuals involved in approximately $6 billion of fraud.

Today’s defendants played a variety of key roles in the schemes alleged in this takedown.   But most strikingly, at the center of this takedown are the 27 medical professionals, including 16 physicians, who we allege breached the public trust and their professional duties of care, selling out their medical licenses for the lure of easy money.

For example, in Houston, we are announcing charges against five doctors employed by a health care clinic who were paid to provide $1.4 million worth of referrals for home health treatments that were not necessary and often not even provided.

In Los Angeles, we have charged a physician with false billings for medically unnecessary home health and medical equipment orders that cost Medicare over $23 million — including hundreds of expensive power wheelchairs for people who did not need or want them.

In some of these schemes, we saw doctors going to extravagant lengths to conceal their fraud.  In Detroit, we charged a doctor who allegedly conspired with his billing company to conceal his false billings through a complex web of sham partnerships with other health care companies.

In other schemes, we seized extravagant fruits of the crimes, including bank accounts, jewelry, and luxury vehicles tied to the scheme.

The foundation for the success of the Medicare Fraud Strike Force is data.   Cold, hard data.  Medicare recently made physician billing data public for the first time, which has prompted reporters and researchers to take a close look at who is billing Medicare for what.   Our agents and prosecutors have used those numbers and other real-time data for years.   We take that data, provided to us by CMS, and we use sophisticated analytic tools to identify billing patterns that stand out compared to other health care providers in their communities.   The result?   We have identified billions of dollars in Medicare fraud, spread across the country.   This real-time data helps us pinpoint new schemes as they arise so we can stay one step ahead of the fraudsters.

But it is not just data.   We are also using traditional law enforcement techniques used in other types of investigations, like those used in corruption or organized crime cases, to develop evidence.   Undercover officers, Title III wiretaps, hidden cameras, GPS trackers. And I also want to highlight the role that Medicare beneficiaries can play in rooting out fraud.   In many of the schemes charged today, powerful evidence of fraud came from Medicare beneficiaries finding out what was billed to Medicare using their numbers and coming forward to tell law enforcement what they were seeing.

We are investigating and prosecuting all levels of these schemes – from the recruiters to the medical professionals to the owners of these clinics.   We will bring to justice those who steal from Medicare.   With an overall conviction rate of 95%, the Medicare Fraud Strike Force has sent that message to over 1,400 Medicare fraudsters who have been convicted since the Strike Force began operations in 2007.   In fact, just yesterday, a jury convicted a Dallas doctor who took cash in exchange for falsely certifying that Medicare beneficiaries qualified for home health services.

Make no mistake, together with our partners in the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices, the FBI, and the Department of Health and Human Services, the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice will continue to aggressively investigate health care fraud using every tool available to us.   We are committed to the fight against Medicare fraud.   We will bring to justice those who loot our nation’s health care funds, and we will recover what has been stolen.

Thank you.