Owner of Home Health Agency Sentenced to 75 Years in Prison for Involvement in $13 Million Medicare Fraud Conspiracy

Friday, August 11, 2017

The owner and director of nursing of a Houston home health agency was sentenced today to 75 years in prison for her role in a $13 million Medicare fraud scheme.

Acting Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Blanco of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Acting U.S. Attorney Abe Martinez of the Southern District of Texas, Special Agent in Charge Perrye K. Turner of the FBI’s Houston Field Office, Special Agent in Charge C.J. Porter of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services-Office of Inspector General’s (HHS-OIG) Dallas Region and Special Agent in Charge D. Richard Goss of the Houston Field Office of IRS-Criminal Investigation Division (IRS-CI) made the announcement.

Marie Neba, 53, of Sugarland, Texas, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Melinda Harmon of the Southern District of Texas.  In November 2016, Neba was convicted after a two-week jury trial of one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud, three counts of health care fraud, one count of conspiracy to pay and receive health care kickbacks, one count of payment and receipt of health care kickbacks, one count of conspiracy to launder monetary instruments and one count of making health care false statements.

According to the evidence presented at trial, from February 2006 through June 2015, Neba and others conspired to defraud Medicare by submitting over $10 million in false and fraudulent claims for home health services to Medicare through Fiango Home Healthcare Inc., owned by Neba and her husband, Ebong Tilong, 53, also of Sugarland, Texas.  The trial evidence showed that using the money that Medicare paid for such fraudulent claims, Neba paid illegal kickbacks to patient recruiters for referring Medicare beneficiaries to Fiango for home health services.  Neba also paid illegal kickbacks to Medicare beneficiaries for allowing Fiango to bill Medicare using beneficiaries’ Medicare information for home health services that were not medically necessary or not provided, the evidence showed.  Neba falsified medical records to make it appear as though the Medicare beneficiaries qualified for and received home health services.  Neba also attempted to suborn perjury from a co-defendant in the federal courthouse, the evidence showed.

According to the evidence presented at trial, from February 2006 to June 2015, Neba received more than $13 million from Medicare for home health services that were not medically necessary or not provided to Medicare beneficiaries.

To date, four others have pleaded guilty based on their roles in the fraudulent scheme at Fiango.  Nirmal Mazumdar, M.D., the former medical director of Fiango, pleaded guilty to a scheme to commit health care fraud for his role at Fiango.  Daisy Carter and Connie Ray Island, two patient recruiters for Fiango, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit health care fraud for their roles at Fiango.  On August 11, Island was sentenced to 33 months in prison.  Mazumdar and Carter are awaiting sentencing.  After the first week of trial, Tilong pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit healthcare fraud, three counts of healthcare fraud, one count of conspiracy to pay and receive healthcare kickbacks, three counts of payment and receipt of healthcare kickbacks, and one count of conspiracy to launder monetary instruments.  Tilong is scheduled to be sentenced on October 13.

The case was investigated by the IRS-CI, FBI and HHS-OIG under the supervision of the Fraud Section of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas.  The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney William S.W. Chang and Senior Trial Attorney Jonathan T. Baum of the Fraud Section.

The Fraud Section leads the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, which is 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.  The Medicare Fraud Strike Force operates in nine locations nationwide.  Since its inception in March 2007, the Medicare Fraud Strike Force has charged over 3,500 defendants who collectively have falsely billed the Medicare program for over $12.5 billion.

To learn more about the Health Care Fraud Prevention and Enforcement Action Team (HEAT), go to www.stopmedicarefraud.gov.

Registered Nurse Who Owned Two Houston Home Health Companies Convicted in $20 Million Medicare Fraud Scheme

Thursday, August 10, 2017

A federal jury today convicted a registered nurse who was the owner of two home health companies in Houston for her role in a $20 million Medicare fraud scheme involving fraudulent claims for home health services.

Acting Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Blanco of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Acting U.S. Attorney Abe Martinez of the Southern District of Texas, Special Agent in Charge Perrye K. Turner of the FBI’s Houston Field Office and Special Agent in Charge C.J. Porter of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services-Office of Inspector General’s (HHS-OIG) Dallas Region made the announcement.

After a four-day trial, Evelyn Mokwuah, 52, of Pearland, Texas, was convicted of one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud and four counts of health care fraud for her conduct at Beechwood Home Health (Beechwood) and Criseven Health Management Corporation (Criseven).  Sentencing has been scheduled for October 6, before U.S. District Judge Gray H. Miller of the Southern District of Texas, who presided over the trial.

According to evidence presented at trial, from 2008 to 2016, Mokwuah and others engaged in a scheme to defraud Medicare of approximately $20 million in fraudulent claims for home health services at Beechwood and Criseven that were not provided or not medically necessary.  According to the trial evidence, Mokwuah billed for patients who were not homebound or did not qualify for home health services; Mokwuah and others falsified patient records to show patients were homebound when they were not; Mokwuah paid patient recruiters to recruit Medicare beneficiaries to Beechwood and Criseven; and Mokwuah paid doctors to sign off on falsified plans of care for the recruited beneficiaries so that Beechwood and Criseven could bill Medicare for those services.

Co-defendant Amara Oparanozie, 47, of Richmond, Texas, pleaded guilty on May 24, to conspiring with Mokwuah and others to commit health care fraud and is awaiting sentencing.

The case was investigated by the FBI and HHS-OIG, 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 for the Southern District of Texas.  The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorneys Scott Armstrong and Kevin Lowell of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section.

The Fraud Section leads the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, which is part of a joint initiative between the department and HHS to focus their efforts to prevent and deter fraud and enforce current anti-fraud laws around the country. The Medicare Fraud Strike Force operates in nine locations nationwide. Since its inception in March 2007, the Medicare Fraud Strike Force has charged over 3,500 defendants who collectively have falsely billed the Medicare program for over $12.5 billion.

Houston Physician Convicted of Conspiracy in $1.5 Million Medicare Fraud Scheme

Friday, July 21, 2017

A federal jury convicted a Houston physician today for his role in a scheme involving approximately $1.5 million in fraudulent Medicare claims for home health care services and various medical testing and services.

Acting Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Blanco of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Acting U.S. Attorney Abe Martinez of the Southern District of Texas, Special Agent in Charge Perrye K. Turner of the FBI’s Houston Field Office, Special Agent in Charge C.J. Porter of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services-Office of Inspector General’s (HHS-OIG) Dallas Region and the Texas Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit (MFCU) made the announcement.

After a four-day trial, Ronald F. Kahn, M.D., 62, of Harris County, Texas, was convicted of one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud and one count of conspiracy to pay and receive illegal kickbacks. Sentencing has been scheduled for September 25, before U.S. District Judge Kenneth M. Hoyt, who presided over the trial.

According to evidence presented at trial, from approximately 2006 until 2013, Kahn and others engaged in a scheme to defraud Medicare out of approximately $1.5 million in fraudulent claims for home heath care services in connection with Allied Covenant Home Health, Inc., a Houston home healthcare agency (Allied).  Kahn fraudulently admitted patients for home health care with Allied when they did not qualify for such services, the evidence showed. To make it appear that these patients did qualify, Kahn falsified medical records and signed false documents purporting to show that patients admitted to Allied’s home health program satisfied Medicare’s requirements for admission, the evidence showed.

The evidence also showed that Kahn paid illegal kickbacks for patients from Harris Health Care Group, a Houston medical clinic (Harris). Kahn paid illegal kickbacks to the owner of Harris in order to bill Medicare for facet injections that were medically unnecessary, not provided or both, the evidence showed.

The case was investigated by the FBI, HHS-OIG and Texas MFCU, 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 for the Southern District of Texas. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant Chief Ashlee McFarlane and Trial Attorney Scott Armstrong of the Fraud Section.

The Fraud Section leads the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, which is 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.  The Medicare Fraud Strike Force operates in nine locations nationwide.  Since its inception in March 2007, the Medicare Fraud Strike Force has charged over 3,500 defendants who collectively have falsely billed the Medicare program for over $12.5 billion.

President of Houston Hospital and Three Others Convicted in $158 Million Medicare Fraud Scheme

A federal jury in Houston today convicted the president of Riverside General Hospital (Riverside), his son, and two others for their participation in a $158 million Medicare fraud scheme involving false claims for mental health treatment.  Ten defendants have now been convicted in connection with the Riverside fraud scheme.

Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson of the Southern District of Texas, Special Agent in Charge Perrye K. Turner of the FBI’s Houston Field Office, Special Agent in Charge Lucy R. Cruz of the Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigation’s (IRS-CI) Houston Field Office and the Texas Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit (MFCU) made the announcement.  U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal of the Southern District of Texas presided over the trial.

“The former president of Riverside hospital, his son, and their co-conspirators systematically defrauded Medicare, treating mentally ill and disabled Americans like chits to be traded and cashed out to pad their own pockets,” said Assistant Attorney General Caldwell.  “For over six years, the Gibsons and their co-conspirators stuck taxpayers with millions in hospital bills, purportedly for intensive psychiatric treatment. But the ‘treatment’ was a sham – some patients just watched television all day, others had dementia and couldn’t understand the therapy they supposedly received, and other patients never even went to the hospital at all.  Today’s verdict sends another powerful message that the department will hold accountable anyone who seeks personal profits at the expense of America’s most vulnerable citizens.”

Earnest Gibson III, 70, the former president of Riverside, Earnest Gibson IV, 37, the operator of one of Riverside’s satellite locations, and Regina Askew, 49, a group home owner, were each convicted of conspiracy to commit health care fraud and conspiracy to pay kickbacks, as well as related counts of paying and receiving illegal kickbacks.  Robert Crane, 58, a patient recruiter, was convicted of conspiracy to pay and receive kickbacks.  Gibson III and Gibson IV were also convicted of conspiracy to commit money laundering.  Gibson III was acquitted of two substantive counts of paying and receiving illegal kickbacks.

According to evidence presented at trial, Gibson III, Gibson IV, and Askew operated a scheme to defraud Medicare beginning in 2005 and continuing until June 2012.  The defendants caused the submission of false and fraudulent claims for partial hospitalization program (PHP) services to Medicare through the hospital.  A PHP is a form of intensive outpatient treatment for severe mental illness.

Specifically, evidence at trial demonstrated that the Medicare beneficiaries for whom Riverside and its satellite locations billed Medicare for PHP services did not qualify for or need PHP services.  Moreover, the Medicare beneficiaries rarely saw a psychiatrist and did not receive intensive psychiatric treatment.  In fact, some of the Medicare beneficiaries were suffering from Alzheimer’s and could not actively participate in any treatment even if they actually qualified to receive PHP services.  Nevertheless, Gibson III, Gibson IV and Askew submitted claims for reimbursement to Medicare claiming that PHP services were provided to the Medicare beneficiaries.

Evidence presented at trial also showed that Earnest Gibson III paid kickbacks to patient recruiters and to owners and operators of group care homes, including Askew, in exchange for those individuals delivering ineligible Medicare beneficiaries to the hospital’s PHPs.  Gibson IV also paid patient recruiters, including Crane and others, in exchange for those individuals delivering ineligible Medicare beneficiaries to the specific PHP operated by Gibson IV.

Approximately $158 million in claims to Medicare were submitted for PHP services purportedly provided by the hospital to the recruited beneficiaries, when in fact, the PHP services were medically unnecessary or never provided.  The proceeds from the health care fraud were used to promote the fraud scheme by paying kickbacks to patient recruiters and group home owners in exchange for their sending Medicare beneficiaries to the hospital’s PHPs.

Gibson III, Gibson IV, Askew and Crane are scheduled to be sentenced on Feb. 17, 2015.

Others involved in the fraudulent scheme have already pleaded guilty and are awaiting sentencing.  Mohammad Khan, an assistant administrator at the hospital, who managed many of the hospital’s PHPs, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit health care fraud, conspiracy to defraud the United States and to pay illegal kickbacks, and five counts of paying illegal kickbacks.  William Bullock, an operator of a Riverside satellite location, as well as Leslie Clark, Robert Ferguson, Waddie McDuffie, and Sharonda Holmes, who were all involved in paying or receiving kickbacks, have also pleaded guilty to their roles in the scheme.

The case was investigated by the FBI, IRS-CI, and Texas MFCU, with assistance from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General’s (HHS-OIG) Dallas Regional Office, the Railroad Retirement Board, Office of Inspector General’s Chicago Field Office and the Office of Personnel Management’s Office of Inspector General, 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 for the Southern District of Texas.  The case is being prosecuted by Assistant Chiefs Laura M.K. Cordova and Jennifer L. Saulino and Trial Attorney Ashlee C. McFarlane 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 nearly 2,000 defendants who have collectively billed the Medicare program for more than $6 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.

King’s Daughters Medical Center to Pay Nearly $41 Million to Resolve Allegations of False Billing for Unnecessary Cardiac Procedures and Kickbacks

Ashland Hospital Corp. d/b/a King’s Daughters Medical Center (KDMC) has agreed to pay $40.9 million to resolve allegations that it submitted false claims to the Medicare and Kentucky Medicaid programs for medically unnecessary coronary stents and diagnostic catheterizations and had prohibited financial relationships with physicians referring patients to the hospital, the Justice Department announced today.
Assistant Attorney General Stuart F. Delery of the Justice Department’s Civil Division, U.S. Attorney Kerry Harvey for the Eastern District of Kentucky and Special Agent in Charge Derrick L. Jackson at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG) Kentucky region made the announcement.
“Hospitals that place their financial interests above the well-being of their patients will be held accountable,” said Assistant Attorney General Delery.    “ The Department of Justice will not tolerate those who abuse federal health care programs and put the beneficiaries of these programs at risk by providing medically unnecessary care.”
The government alleged that, between 2006 and 2011, KDMC billed for numerous unnecessary coronary stents and diagnostic catheterizations performed by KDMC physicians on Medicare and Medicaid patients who did not need them.    The government also alleged that the physicians falsified medical records in order to justify these unnecessary procedures, which allegedly generated millions of dollars in Medicare and Kentucky Medicaid reimbursements for KDMC.
“The conduct alleged in this matter is unacceptable, victimizing both taxpayers and patients,” said U.S. Attorney Harvey.    “Treatment decisions motivated by financial gain undermine public confidence in our health care system and threaten vital federal programs upon which so many of our citizens rely.    We will not relent in our efforts to protect the public from the sort of systematic misconduct alleged in this case.”
The settlement also resolves allegations that KDMC violated the Stark Law by paying certain cardiologists salaries that were unreasonably high and in excess of fair market value.    The Stark Law is designed to limit the influence of money on physicians’ medical decision-making by prohibiting financial relationships between hospitals and referring physicians, unless these relationships meet certain designated exceptions.
In connection with this settlement, KDMC has agreed to enter into a Corporate Integrity Agreement with HHS-OIG, which obligates the hospital to undertake substantial internal compliance reforms and to commit to a third-party review of its claims to federal health care programs for the next five years.
“Medically unnecessary procedures can cause serious health issues, cost the taxpayers millions of dollars each year and drain the Medicare Trust Fund,” said Special Agent in Charge Jackson.    “The OIG will continue to protect beneficiaries and hold health care providers accountable for improper claims.”
“This type of alleged conduct deceives individuals when they are seeking medical treatment and are vulnerable,” said Special Agent in Charge Perrye K. Turner of the FBI’s Louisville Field Division.  “The level of funds involved in this matter is staggering.    This money has been stolen from the patients and the taxpayers.”
The Commonwealth of Kentucky will receive approximately $1,018,380, which represents the state’s share of the recovered Medicaid funds.    The Medicaid program is funded jointly by the federal and state governments.
This settlement illustrates the government’s emphasis on combating health care fraud and marks another achievement for the Health Care Fraud Prevention and Enforcement Action Team (HEAT) initiative, which was announced in May 2009 by Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius.  The partnership between the two departments has focused efforts to reduce and prevent Medicare and Medicaid financial fraud through enhanced cooperation.  One of the most powerful tools in this effort is the False Claims Act.  Since January 2009, the Justice Department has recovered a total of more than $19 billion through False Claims Act cases, with more than $13.4 billion of that amount recovered in cases involving fraud against federal health care programs.
The investigation was conducted by the FBI, the HHS-OIG, the Kentucky Office of Attorney General, Medicaid Fraud and Abuse Control Unit, the Commercial Litigation Branch of the Department of Justice’s Civil Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Kentucky.    The claims settled by this agreement are allegations only, and there has been no determination of liability.