An owner and operator of community mental health centers in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, as well as a patient recruiter for a related facility in Houston, Texas, were convicted on Wednesday, May 21, 2014, for their roles in a $258 million Medicare fraud scheme involving three facilities that filed fraudulent claims for psychiatric services that were unnecessary or never actually provided.
Acting Assistant Attorney General David A. O’Neil of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Walt Green for the Middle District of Louisiana, Special Agent in Charge Michael J. Anderson for the FBI’s New Orleans Field Office, Special Agent in Charge Mike Fields for the Dallas Region of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Inspector General and Louisiana State Attorney General James Buddy Caldwell made the announcement.
“These convictions resulted from a massive fraud involving thousands of false billings for mental health services that were either not needed or not given,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General O’Neil. “It was a sophisticated scheme involving kickbacks, falsified medical records and false billings. We will use all tools at our disposal – from data to traditional law enforcement techniques – to root out these schemes and bring the appropriate people to justice.”
“These significant convictions are the latest example of our ongoing commitment to rooting out health care fraud throughout our community,” said U.S. Attorney Green. “We will use all of the tools and resources at our disposal to prosecute those who submit false information and false claims to Medicare – especially where, as in this case, those claims cost the United States tens of millions of dollars and were filed using the names and identities of Medicare beneficiaries who are particularly vulnerable. I appreciate the tremendous assistance we received in this case, and in our other anti-health care fraud efforts, from the Department’s Criminal Division and our federal and state law enforcement partners.”
“The success of this broad sweeping, complex healthcare fraud investigation could not have been possible without the tremendous collaboration between all agencies involved,” said Special Agent in Charge Anderson. “It clearly demonstrates how law enforcement can make such a significant community impact as a result of such strong partnerships.”
“Whenever Medicare providers are motivated by greed, our most vulnerable citizens, the elderly, are put at risk,” said Special Agent in Charge Fields. “Our HHS-OIG agents will continue to work closely with our law enforcement partners to investigate providers who will stop at nothing to loot the Medicare Trust Fund.”
Roslyn F. Dogan, 53, of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and James R. Hunter, 49, of Houston, Texas, were found guilty after a six-day jury trial before Chief U.S. District Judge Brian A. Jackson of the Middle District of Louisiana. Dogan was convicted of conspiracy to commit health care fraud and two counts of health care fraud. Hunter was convicted of conspiracy to commit health care fraud and conspiracy to pay and receive health care kickbacks.
The investigation into these three community mental health centers – Shifa Community Mental Health Center of Baton Rouge (Shifa Baton Rouge), Serenity Center of Baton Rouge (Serenity Center), and Shifa Community Mental Health Center of Texas (Shifa Texas) – has resulted in the convictions of 17 individuals employed by the facilities, including therapists, marketers, administrators, owners and the medical director. The investigation is ongoing.
According to court documents, the companies billed Medicare more than $258 million over a period of seven years for partial hospitalization program services for the mentally ill that were unnecessary or never provided.
Further according to court documents, Dogan was part owner of Serenity Center as well as the marketer for Serenity Center and Shifa Baton Rouge. As part of the scheme, Dogan would arrange for Medicare-eligible patients to be sent to Shifa Baton Rouge and Serenity Center and admitted to those facilities, regardless of whether the patients needed partial hospitalization program services. In order to increase billings to Medicare, Dogan, along with others in management, instructed administrators and therapists to falsify patient treatment records for services that had not been provided. Dogan also concealed the fraud at Shifa Baton Rouge and Serenity Center by directing that patient billing statements be intercepted from patients’ mail in order to prevent the patients from seeing the services that had been billed in their names, and by stealing incriminating documents seized pursuant to a search warrant from federal custody.
According to court documents, Hunter, a resident of Houston, was paid $1,500 per week in cash to direct patients to attend the partial hospitalization program at Shifa Texas. Hunter, in turn, paid each patient $75 per week to attend the program. In an effort to get patients admitted to Shifa Texas, Hunter instructed patients as to the types of symptoms and diagnoses to describe to physicians in order to be admitted to the program.
The individuals who have pleaded guilty in this case include:
- Dr. Zahid Imran – Imran, a Baton Rouge area psychiatrist, served as Shifa’s medical director and co-owner of Serenity Center and Shifa Texas. As part of the scheme, Imran would admit mentally ill patients to the facilities, some of whom were inappropriate for partial hospitalization. Imran would then re-certify these patients’ appropriateness for the program, in an effort to continue to bill Medicare for services. In order to support their fraudulent Medicare billing, Imran and others would falsify patient treatment records to reflect services on dates where no such services were provided.
- Hoor Naz Jafri – Jafri was an owner of all three facilities in Baton Rouge and Houston and a marketer for Shifa Baton Rouge and Serenity Center. Jafri was also part owner of two affiliated residential facilities; patients who lived at these apartments were required to attend the programs at Shifa Baton Rouge and Serenity Center, regardless of whether these patients actually needed or desired the services. As a marketer for Shifa Baton Rouge and Serenity Center, Jafri caused patients to be admitted to the facilities who were inappropriate for the services. As management at all three facilities, Jafri directed administrators and therapists at these facilities to falsify records for treatment that patients did not in fact receive.
- Sedra Signater and Arthur Smith – Signater and Smith were the administrators of Shifa and Serenity Center, respectively. At the direction of management, Signater and Smith fabricated and instructed other therapists at the facilities to fabricate patient treatment records to indicate therapy had been provided to patients, when in fact, no such therapy had been provided. These fabricated records formed the basis of the fraudulent billings to Medicare.
- Erica Williams and Kyeiana Murray – Williams and Murray were office managers of Shifa Texas and Shifa Baton Rouge, respectively. Williams also served as the admissions coordinator of Shifa Texas. As the office managers at these facilities, Murray and Williams facilitated and coordinated the collection of the falsified patient treatment records and submitted these records for billing to Medicare. Williams also directed therapists at Shifa Texas to falsify patient treatment records and coordinated the payment of kickbacks to patient recruiter James Hunter in Houston.
- Robert Booker, Teryl Vincent, Todd Ulmer, June Durio, Nancy Reed, Jason Myer, Anna Ngang and Patrick Wallace – Booker, Vincent, Ulmer, Durio, Reed and Myer, therapists at Shifa Baton Rouge and Serenity Center, and Anna Ngang and Patrick Wallace, therapists at Shifa Texas, were directed by Signater, Smith, and Williams to falsify patient treatment records for group therapy sessions they had not conducted.
The case was investigated by HHS-OIG, the FBI, and the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit of the Louisiana State Attorney General’s Office, and was brought as part of the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, under the supervision of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section. This case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorneys Abigail Taylor and Dustin Davis of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Shubhra Shivpuri of the Middle District of Louisiana.
Since its inception in March 2007, the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, now operating in nine cities across the country, has charged nearly 1,900 defendants who have collectively billed the Medicare program for almost $6 billion. In addition, HHS’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, working in conjunction with HHS-OIG, are taking steps to increase accountability and decrease the presence of fraudulent providers.
To learn more about the Health Care Fraud Prevention and Enforcement Action Team (HEAT), go to: www.stopmedicarefraud.gov .