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.

Dallas Doctor Sentenced on Health Care Fraud Conviction

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

DALLAS — A 60-year-old doctor from Rockwall, Texas, Jacques Roy, who was convicted in April 2016 of various health care fraud charges following a six-week-long trial, was sentenced today by U.S. District Judge Sam A. Lindsay to 420 months in federal prison and ordered to pay $268,147,699.15 in restitution, joint and several with all codefendants to Medicare and Medicaid, announced U.S. Attorney John Parker of the Northern District of Texas.

Roy was convicted of one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud, eight counts of health care fraud, two counts of making a false statement relating to healthcare matters and one count of obstruction of justice. Roy has been in custody since the time of his arrest in February 2012.

“The only thing more stunning than Jacques Roy and his co-conspirators’ shameless methods, said U.S. Attorney Parker, is the staggering dollar amounts involved in this fraud scheme. This takes brazen to a whole new level.”

The following defendants have also been sentence for their role in the health care fraud scheme:

  • Wilbert James Vesey, Jr., 210 months in federal prison and $23 million in restitution
  • Cyprian Akamnonu, 120 months in federal prison and $25 million in restitution
  • Patricia Akamnonu, 120 months in federal prison and $25 million in restitution
  • Charity Eleda, 48 months in federal prison and $397,294.51 in restitution
  • Teri Sivils, 3 years probation and $885,714.05 in restitution

Cynthia Stiger will be sentenced October 26, 2017.

The government presented evidence at trial that Dr. Roy, Stiger, Veasey and Eleda engaged in a large-scale, sophisticated health care fraud scheme in which they conspired together and with others to defraud Medicare and Medicaid through companies they owned/controlled: Medistat Group Associates, P.A., Apple of Your Eye Health Care Services, Inc., Ultimate Care Home Health Services and Charry Home Care Services.

As part of the conspiracy, Stiger, Veasey and Eleda, along with others, improperly recruited individuals with Medicare coverage to sign up for Medicare home health care services. Eleda recruited patients from The Bridge homeless shelter in Dallas, sometimes paying recruiters $50 per beneficiary they found and directed to her vehicle parked outside the shelter’s gates. Eleda and other nurses would falsify medical documents to make it appear as though those beneficiaries qualified for home health care services that were not medically necessary. Eleda and the nurses prepared Plans of Care (POC), also known as 485’s, which were not medically necessary, and these POCs were delivered to Dr. Roy’s office and not properly reviewed by any physician.

Dr. Roy instructed his staff to certify these POCs, which indicated to Medicare and Medicaid that a doctor, typically Dr. Roy, had reviewed the treatment plan and deemed it medically necessary. That certifying doctor, typically Dr. Roy, certified that the patient required home health services, which were only permitted to be provided to those individuals who were homebound and required, among other things, skilled nursing. This process was repeated for thousands of POCs, and, in fact, Medistat’s office included a “485 Department,” essentially a “boiler room” to affix fraudulent signatures and certifications.

Once an individual was certified for home health care services, Eleda, nurses who worked for Stiger and Veasey, and other nurses falsified visit notes to make it appear as though skilled nursing services were being provided and continued to be necessary. Dr. Roy would also visit the patients, perform unnecessary home visits, and then order unnecessary medical services for the recruited beneficiaries. Then, at Dr. Roy’s instruction, Medistat employees would submit fraudulent claims to Medicare for the certification and recertification of unnecessary home health care services and other unnecessary medical services.

The government presented further evidence at trial that the scope of Dr. Roy’s fraud was massive; Medistat processed and approved POCs for 11,000 unique Medicare beneficiaries from more than 500 different home health agencies. Dr. Roy entered into formal and informal fraudulent arrangements with Apple, Charry, Ultimate and other home health agencies to ensure his fraudulent business model worked and that he maintained a steady stream of Medicare beneficiaries.

Regarding Dr. Roy’s conviction for obstruction of justice, the government presented evidence that when the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) suspended Dr. Roy and Medistat from receiving Medicare payments after June 2, 2011, because of suspected fraud, Dr. Roy sought an “end-run” around the suspension through the use of another company, Medcare House Calls. Dr. Roy directed the medical providers he employed to be re-credentialed and to bill Medicare under Medcare House Calls, instead of Medistat. Nonetheless, the money that Medicare paid was circumvented back to Medistat and Dr. Roy.

The case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG), and the Texas Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit (MFCU) and was brought as part of the Medicare Fraud Strike Force supervised by the Criminal Division Fraud Section and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Texas.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys P.J. Meitl and Nicole Dana and First Assistant U.S. Attorney Chad Meacham prosecuted the case.

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.

Rowlett Woman Sentenced to 48 Months in Federal Prison for Role in Healthcare Fraud Conspiracy

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

DALLAS — Charity Eleda, R.N., 56, of Rowlett, Texas, was sentenced this morning in federal court in Dallas on a health care fraud conspiracy conviction, announced U.S. Attorney John Parker of the Northern District of Texas.

Eleda was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Sam A. Lindsay to 48 months in federal prison and ordered to pay $397,294.51 in restitution to Medicare. She has been in custody since April 2016, after a federal jury found her guilty of various health care fraud offenses.

Eleda, along with co-defendants, Jacques Roy, M.D., 59, of Rockwall, Texas; Cynthia Stiger, 54, of Dallas; and Wilbert James Veasey, Jr., 65, of Dallas, were each convicted following a six-week-long trial on one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud. In addition, Roy was convicted on eight, Veasey on three and Eleda on four counts of health care fraud. Roy was also convicted on two counts of making a false statement relating to healthcare matters and one count of obstruction of justice. Eleda was also convicted on three counts of making false statements for use in determining rights of benefit and payment by Medicare.

Three other defendants charged in the case, Cyprian Akamnonu and his registered nurse wife, Patricia Akamnonu, both of Cedar Hill, Texas, and Teri Sivils, of Midlothian, Texas, each pleaded guilty before trial to one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud. Cyprian and Patricia Akamnonu are each currently serving a ten-year federal prison sentence. They were also ordered to pay $25 million in restitution. Sivils pleaded guilty in April 2015, and was sentenced to 3 years probation.

The government presented evidence at trial that Dr. Roy, Stiger, Veasey and Eleda engaged in a large-scale, sophisticated health care fraud scheme in which they conspired together and with others to defraud Medicare and Medicaid through companies they owned/controlled: Medistat Group Associates, P.A., Apple of Your Eye Health Care Services, Inc., Ultimate Care Home Health Services and Charry Home Care Services.

As part of the conspiracy, Stiger, Veasey and Eleda, along with others, improperly recruited individuals with Medicare coverage to sign up for Medicare home health care services. Eleda recruited patients from The Bridge homeless shelter in Dallas, sometimes paying recruiters $50 per beneficiary they found and directed to her vehicle parked outside the shelter’s gates. Eleda and other nurses would falsify medical documents to make it appear as though those beneficiaries qualified for home health care services that were not medically necessary. Eleda and the nurses prepared Plans of Care (POC), also known as 485’s, which were not medically necessary, and these POCs were delivered to Dr. Roy’s office and not properly reviewed by any physician.

Dr. Roy instructed his staff to certify these POCs, which indicated to Medicare and Medicaid that a doctor, typically Dr. Roy, had reviewed the treatment plan and deemed it medically necessary. That certifying doctor, typically Dr. Roy, certified that the patient required home health services, which were only permitted to be provided to those individuals who were homebound and required, among other things, skilled nursing. This process was repeated for thousands of POCs, and, in fact, Medistat’s office included a “485 Department,” essentially a “boiler room” to affix fraudulent signatures and certifications.

Once an individual was certified for home health care services, Eleda, nurses who worked for Stiger and Veasey, and other nurses falsified visit notes to make it appear as though skilled nursing services were being provided and continued to be necessary. Dr. Roy would also visit the patients, perform unnecessary home visits, and then order unnecessary medical services for the recruited beneficiaries. Then, at Dr. Roy’s instruction, Medistat employees would submit fraudulent claims to Medicare for the certification and recertification of unnecessary home health care services and other unnecessary medical services.

The government presented further evidence at trial that the scope of Dr. Roy’s fraud was massive; Medistat processed and approved POCs for 11,000 unique Medicare beneficiaries from more than 500 different home health agencies. Dr. Roy entered into formal and informal fraudulent arrangements with Apple, Charry, Ultimate and other home health agencies to ensure his fraudulent business model worked and that he maintained a steady stream of Medicare beneficiaries.

The case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG), and the Texas Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit (MFCU) and was brought as part of the Medicare Fraud Strike Force supervised by the Criminal Division Fraud Section and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Texas.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys P.J. Meitl and Nicole Dana and First Assistant U.S. Attorney Chad Meacham prosecuted the case.

Alleged Head of Wildlife Smuggling Ring Extradited from Australia

Monday, July 24, 2017

Guan Zong Chen (“Graham Chen”), a Chinese national was arraigned today in federal court in Boston, Massachusetts on charges that he led a conspiracy to illegally export (smuggle) $700,000 worth of wildlife items made from rhinoceros horn, elephant ivory and coral from the United States to Hong Kong. Chen was arrested last year when he traveled from China to Australia and today’s hearing was his first court appearance on an indictment returned by a Boston grand jury in 2015 and unsealed in anticipation of the hearing.

According to the eight-count indictment, Chen purchased the wildlife artifacts at U.S. auction houses located in California, Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York and Texas. He conspired with another Chinese national, a recent college graduate in China to travel to the United States to pick up the purchased items and either hand carry or arrange for them to be mailed to another co-conspirator that owned a shipping business in Concord, Massachusetts. The shipper then repacked the wildlife items and exported (smuggled) them to Hong Kong with documents that falsely stated their contents and value and without obtaining required declarations and permits. In April 2014, Chen visited the United States and visited the shipper in Concord, Massachusetts. During the visit with the shipper, CHEN instructed the shipper to illegally export (smuggle) a sculpture made from elephant ivory to Hong Kong on Chen’s behalf and falsely declared it to be made of wood and worth $50.

The unsealing of the indictment and court appearance were was announced today by Acting Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey H. Wood of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division and Acting U.S. Attorney William D. Weinreb of the District of Massachusetts. In announcing the case today, Acting Assistant Attorney General Wood and Acting U.S. Attorney Weinreb expressed their appreciation to the Australian Federal Police and the Australian Attorney-General’s Department for their help in apprehending Chen and extraditing him to the United States.

Trade in rhinoceros horn, elephant ivory and coral have been regulated since 1976 under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), a treaty signed by over 175 countries around the world to protect fish, wildlife, and plants that are or may become imperiled due to the demands of international markets. Animals listed under CITES cannot be exported from the United States without prior notification to, and approval from, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

was apprehended as part of Operation Crash, an ongoing effort by the Department of the Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service, in coordination with the Department of Justice to detect, deter, and prosecute those engaged in the illegal killing of and trafficking in protected species including rhinoceros and elephants.

An indictment contains allegations that crimes have been committed. A defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

The investigation is continuing and is being handled by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s Office of Law Enforcement and the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section, with assistance from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts and support on the extradition from DOJ’s Office of International Affairs and the U.S. Marshals Services in the District of Massachusetts. The government is represented by Senior Litigation Counsel Richard A. Udell and Trial Attorney Gary N. Donner of the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section of the Environment and Natural Resources Division.

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.

Former Virtual Currency CEO Pleads Guilty to $9 Million Fraud Scheme

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Deirdre M. Daly, United States Attorney for the District of Connecticut, and Patricia M. Ferrick, Special Agent in Charge of the New Haven Division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, announced that HOMERO JOSHUA GARZA, 32, of Texas, formerly of Somers, Conn., waived his right to be indicted and pleaded guilty today in Hartford federal court to one count of wire fraud related to his role in his companies’ purported generation and sale of virtual currency.

According to court documents and statements made in court, “virtual currency” is a digital representation of a value that can be traded and functions as a medium of exchange. Virtual currency generally is not issued or guaranteed by any jurisdiction or government, and its value is decided by consensus within the community of users of the virtual currency. A virtual currency generally self-generates units of currency through a process called “mining.” A virtual currency “miner” is computer hardware that runs special computer software to solve complex algorithms that validate groups of transactions in that virtual currency. Once a complex algorithm is solved, a unit of currency, such as a bitcoin, is awarded to the individual operating the miner. This process is known as “mining.”

Between approximately May 2014 and January 2016, GARZA, through GAW, GAW Miners, ZenMiner, and ZenCloud, companies he founded and operated, defrauded victims out of money in connection with the procurement of virtual currency on their behalf. The companies sold miners, access to miners, and the right to purchase a virtual currency called “paycoin,” as well as “hashlets.” A hashlet entitled an investor to a share of the profits that GAW Miners or ZenMiner would purportedly earn by mining virtual currencies using the computers that were maintained in their data centers. In other words, hashlet customers, or investors, were buying the rights to profit from a slice of the computing power owned by GAW Miners and ZenMiner.

To generate business and attract customers and investors, GARZA made multiple false statements related to the scheme, including stating that GAW Miners’ parent company purchased a controlling stake in ZenMiner for $8 million and that ZenMiner became a division of GAW Miners. In fact, there was no such transaction. GARZA also stated that the hashlets GARZA’s companies sold engaged in the mining of virtual currency. In fact, GARZA’s companies sold more hashlets than was supported by the computing power maintained in their data centers. Stated differently, GARZA’s companies sold the customers the right to more virtual currency than the companies’ computing power could generate. GARZA also stated that the market value of a single paycoin would not fall below $20 per unit because GARZA’s companies had a reserve of $100 million that the companies would use to purchase paycoins to drive up its price. In fact, no such reserve existed.

During the scheme, GARZA, through his companies, used money his companies had made from new hashlet investors to pay older hashlet investors. The payments were money that the companies owed the older investors based on the purported mining GAW Miners and ZenMiner had done on the investors’ behalf.

The loss attributable to GARZA from the scheme was $9,182,000.

GARZA is scheduled to be sentenced by U.S. District Judge Robert N. Chatigny on October 12, 2017, at which time he faces a maximum term of imprisonment of 20 years.

This matter is being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys John T. Pierpont, Jr. and Jonathan Francis.

National Health Care Fraud Takedown Results in Charges Against Over 412 Individuals Responsible for $1.3 Billion in Fraud Losses

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Largest Health Care Fraud Enforcement Action in Department of Justice History

Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Tom Price, M.D., announced today the largest ever health care fraud enforcement action by the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, involving 412 charged defendants across 41 federal districts, including 115 doctors, nurses and other licensed medical professionals, for their alleged participation in health care fraud schemes involving approximately $1.3 billion in false billings. Of those charged, over 120 defendants, including doctors, were charged for their roles in prescribing and distributing opioids and other dangerous narcotics. Thirty state Medicaid Fraud Control Units also participated in today’s arrests. In addition, HHS has initiated suspension actions against 295 providers, including doctors, nurses and pharmacists.

Attorney General Sessions and Secretary Price were joined in the announcement by Acting Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Blanco of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Acting Director Andrew McCabe of the FBI, Acting Administrator Chuck Rosenberg of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Inspector General Daniel Levinson of the HHS Office of Inspector General (OIG), Chief Don Fort of IRS Criminal Investigation, Administrator Seema Verma of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), and Deputy Director Kelly P. Mayo of the Defense Criminal Investigative Service (DCIS).

Today’s enforcement actions were led and coordinated by the Criminal Division, Fraud Section’s Health Care Fraud Unit in conjunction with its Medicare Fraud Strike Force (MFSF) partners, a partnership between the Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney’s Offices, the FBI and HHS-OIG.  In addition, the operation includes the participation of the DEA, DCIS, and State Medicaid Fraud Control Units.

The charges announced today aggressively target schemes billing Medicare, Medicaid, and TRICARE (a health insurance program for members and veterans of the armed forces and their families) for medically unnecessary prescription drugs and compounded medications that often were never even purchased and/or distributed to beneficiaries. The charges also involve individuals contributing to the opioid epidemic, with a particular focus on medical professionals involved in the unlawful distribution of opioids and other prescription narcotics, a particular focus for the Department. According to the CDC, approximately 91 Americans die every day of an opioid related overdose.

“Too many trusted medical professionals like doctors, nurses, and pharmacists have chosen to violate their oaths and put greed ahead of their patients,” said Attorney General Sessions. “Amazingly, some have made their practices into multimillion dollar criminal enterprises. They seem oblivious to the disastrous consequences of their greed. Their actions not only enrich themselves often at the expense of taxpayers but also feed addictions and cause addictions to start. The consequences are real: emergency rooms, jail cells, futures lost, and graveyards.  While today is a historic day, the Department’s work is not finished. In fact, it is just beginning. We will continue to find, arrest, prosecute, convict, and incarcerate fraudsters and drug dealers wherever they are.”

“Healthcare fraud is not only a criminal act that costs billions of taxpayer dollars – it is an affront to all Americans who rely on our national healthcare programs for access to critical healthcare services and a violation of trust,” said Secretary Price. “The United States is home to the world’s best medical professionals, but their ability to provide affordable, high-quality care to their patients is jeopardized every time a criminal commits healthcare fraud. That is why this Administration is committed to bringing these criminals to justice, as President Trump demonstrated in his 2017 budget request calling for a new $70 million investment in the Health Care Fraud and Abuse Control Program. The historic results of this year’s national takedown represent significant progress toward protecting the integrity and sustainability of Medicare and Medicaid, which we will continue to build upon in the years to come.”

According to court documents, the defendants allegedly participated in schemes to submit claims to Medicare, Medicaid and TRICARE for treatments that were medically unnecessary and often never provided. In many cases, patient recruiters, beneficiaries and other co-conspirators were allegedly paid cash kickbacks in return for supplying beneficiary information to providers, so that the providers could then submit fraudulent bills to Medicare for services that were medically unnecessary or never performed. The number of medical professionals charged is particularly significant, because virtually every health care fraud scheme requires a corrupt medical professional to be involved in order for Medicare or Medicaid to pay the fraudulent claims.  Aggressively pursuing corrupt medical professionals not only has a deterrent effect on other medical professionals, but also ensures that their licenses can no longer be used to bilk the system.

“This week, thanks to the work of dedicated investigators and analysts, we arrested once-trusted doctors, pharmacists and other medical professionals who were corrupted by greed,” said Acting Director McCabe. “The FBI is committed to working with our partners on the front lines of the fight against heath care fraud to stop those who steal from the government and deceive the American public.”

“Health care fraud is a reprehensible crime.  It not only represents a theft from taxpayers who fund these vital programs, but impacts the millions of Americans who rely on Medicare and Medicaid,” said Inspector General Levinson. “In the worst fraud cases, greed overpowers care, putting patients’ health at risk. OIG will continue to play a vital leadership role in the Medicare Fraud Strike Force to track down those who abuse important federal health care programs.”

“Our enforcement actions underscore the commitment of the Defense Criminal Investigative Service and our partners to vigorously investigate fraud perpetrated against the DoD’s TRICARE Program. We will continue to relentlessly investigate health care fraud, ensure the taxpayers’ health care dollars are properly spent, and endeavor to guarantee our service members, military retirees, and their dependents receive the high standard of care they deserve,” advised Deputy Director Mayo.

“Last year, an estimated 59,000 Americans died from a drug overdose, many linked to the misuse of prescription drugs. This is, quite simply, an epidemic,” said Acting Administrator Rosenberg. “There is a great responsibility that goes along with handling controlled prescription drugs, and DEA and its partners remain absolutely committed to fighting the opioid epidemic using all the tools at our disposal.”

“Every defendant in today’s announcement shares one common trait – greed,” said Chief Fort. “The desire for money and material items drove these individuals to perpetrate crimes against our healthcare system and prey upon many of the vulnerable in our society.  Thanks to the financial expertise and diligence of IRS-CI special agents, who worked side-by-side with other federal, state and local law enforcement officers to uncover these schemes, these criminals are off the street and will now face the consequences of their actions.”

The Medicare Fraud 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. The Medicare Fraud Strike Force operates in nine locations nationwide. Since its inception in March 2007, the Medicare Fraud Strike Force has charged over 3500 defendants who collectively have falsely billed the Medicare program for over $12.5 billion.

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For the Strike Force locations, in the Southern District of Florida, a total of 77 defendants were charged with offenses relating to their participation in various fraud schemes involving over $141 million in false billings for services including home health care, mental health services and pharmacy fraud.  In one case, the owner and operator of a purported addiction treatment center and home for recovering addicts and one other individual were charged in a scheme involving the submission of over $58 million in fraudulent medical insurance claims for purported drug treatment services. The allegations include actively recruiting addicted patients to move to South Florida so that the co-conspirators could bill insurance companies for fraudulent treatment and testing, in return for which, the co-conspirators offered kickbacks to patients in the form of gift cards, free airline travel, trips to casinos and strip clubs, and drugs.

In the Eastern District of Michigan, 32 defendants face charges for their alleged roles in fraud, kickback, money laundering and drug diversion schemes involving approximately $218 million in false claims for services that were medically unnecessary or never rendered. In one case, nine defendants, including six physicians, were charged with prescribing medically unnecessary controlled substances, some of which were sold on the street, and billing Medicare for $164 million in facet joint injections, drug testing, and other procedures that were medically unnecessary and/or not provided.

In the Southern District of Texas, 26 individuals were charged in cases involving over $66 million in alleged fraud. Among these defendants are a physician and a clinic owner who were indicted on one count of conspiracy to distribute and dispense controlled substances and three substantive counts of distribution of controlled substances in connection with a purported pain management clinic that is alleged to have been the highest prescribing hydrocodone clinic in Houston, where approximately 60-70 people were seen daily, and were issued medically unnecessary prescriptions for hydrocodone in exchange for approximately $300 cash per visit.

In the Central District of California, 17 defendants were charged for their roles in schemes to defraud Medicare out of approximately $147 million. Two of these defendants were indicted for their alleged involvement in a $41.5 million scheme to defraud Medicare and a private insurer. This was purportedly done by submitting fraudulent claims, and receiving payments for, prescription drugs that were not filled by the pharmacy nor given to patients.

In the Northern District of Illinois, 15 individuals were charged in cases related to six different schemes concerning home health care services and physical therapy fraud, kickbacks, and mail and wire fraud.  These schemes involved allegedly over $12.7 million in fraudulent billing. One case allegedly involved $7 million in fraudulent billing to Medicare for home health services that were not necessary nor rendered.

In the Middle District of Florida, 10 individuals were charged with participating in a variety of schemes involving almost $14 million in fraudulent billing.  In one case, three defendants were charged in a $4 million scheme to defraud the TRICARE program.  In that case, it is alleged that a defendant falsely represented himself to be a retired Lieutenant Commander of the United States Navy Submarine Service. It is alleged that he did so in order to gain the trust and personal identifying information from TRICARE beneficiaries, many of whom were members and veterans of the armed forces, for use in the scheme.

In the Eastern District of New York, ten individuals were charged with participating in a variety of schemes including kickbacks, services not rendered, and money laundering involving over $151 million in fraudulent billings to Medicare and Medicaid. Approximately $100 million of those fraudulent billings were allegedly part of a scheme in which five health care professionals paid illegal kickbacks in exchange for patient referrals to their own clinics.

In the Southern Louisiana Strike Force, operating in the Middle and Eastern Districts of Louisiana as well as the Southern District of Mississippi, seven defendants were charged in connection with health care fraud, wire fraud, and kickback schemes involving more than $207 million in fraudulent billing. One case involved a pharmacist who was charged with submitting and causing the submission of $192 million in false and fraudulent claims to TRICARE and other health care benefit programs for dispensing compounded medications that were not medically necessary and often based on prescriptions induced by illegal kickback payments.

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In addition to the Strike Force locations, today’s enforcement actions include cases and investigations brought by an additional 31 U.S. Attorney’s Offices, including the execution of search warrants in investigations conducted by the Eastern District of California and the Northern District of Ohio.

In the Northern and Southern Districts of Alabama, three defendants were charged for their roles in two health care fraud schemes involving pharmacy fraud and drug diversion.

In the Eastern District of Arkansas, 24 defendants were charged for their roles in three drug diversion schemes that were all investigated by the DEA.

In the Northern and Southern Districts of California, four defendants, including a physician, were charged for their roles in a drug diversion scheme and a health care fraud scheme involving kickbacks.

In the District of Connecticut, three defendants were charged in two health care fraud schemes, including a scheme involving two physicians who fraudulently billed Medicaid for services that were not rendered and for the provision of oxycodone with knowledge that the prescriptions were not medically necessary.

In the Northern and Southern Districts of Georgia, three defendants were charged in two health care fraud schemes involving nearly $1.5 million in fraudulent billing.

In the Southern District of Illinois, five defendants were charged in five separate schemes to defraud the Medicaid program.

In the Northern and Southern Districts of Indiana, at least five defendants were charged in various health care fraud schemes related to the unlawful distribution and dispensing of controlled substances, kickbacks, and services not rendered.

In the Southern District of Iowa, five defendants were charged in two schemes involving the distribution of opioids.

In the Western District of Kentucky, 11 defendants were charged with defrauding the Medicaid program.  In one case, four defendants, including three medical professionals, were charged with distributing controlled substances and fraudulently billing the Medicaid program.

In the District of Maine, an office manager was charged with embezzling funds from a medical office.

In the Eastern and Western Districts of Missouri, 16 defendants were charged in schemes involving over $16 million in claims, including 10 defendants charged as part of a scheme involving fraudulent lab testing.

In the District of Nebraska, a dentist was charged with defrauding the Medicaid program.

In the District of Nevada, two defendants, including a physician, were charged in a scheme involving false hospice claims.

In the Northern, Southern, and Western Districts of New York, five defendants, including two physicians and two pharmacists, were charged in schemes involving drug diversion and pharmacy fraud.

In the Southern District of Ohio, five defendants, including four physicians, were charged in connection with schemes involving $12 million in claims to the Medicaid program.

In the District of Puerto Rico, 13 defendants, including three physicians and two pharmacists, were charged in four schemes involving drug diversion, Medicaid fraud, and the theft of funds from a health care program.

In the Eastern District of Tennessee, three defendants were charged in a scheme involving fraudulent billings and the distribution of opioids.

In the Eastern, Northern, and Western Districts of Texas, nine defendants were charged in schemes involving over $42 million in fraudulent billing, including a scheme involving false claims for compounded medications.

In the District of Utah, a nurse practitioner was charged in connection with fraudulently obtaining a controlled substance, tampering with a consumer product, and infecting over seven individuals with Hepatitis C.

In the Eastern District of Virginia, a defendant was charged in connection with a scheme involving identify theft and fraudulent billings to the Medicaid program.

In addition, in the states of Arizona, Arkansas, California, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Vermont and Washington, 96 defendants have been charged in criminal and civil actions with defrauding the Medicaid program out of over $31 million. These cases were investigated by each state’s respective Medicaid Fraud Control Units. In addition, the Medicaid Fraud Control Units of the states of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Nebraska, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas, and Utah participated in the investigation of many of the federal cases discussed above.

The cases announced today are being prosecuted and investigated by U.S. Attorney’s Offices nationwide, along with Medicare Fraud Strike Force teams from the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and from the U.S. Attorney’s Offices of the Southern District of Florida, Eastern District of Michigan, Eastern District of New York, Southern District of Texas, Central District of California, Eastern District of Louisiana, Northern District of Texas, Northern District of Illinois and the Middle District of Florida; and agents from the FBI, HHS-OIG, Drug Enforcement Administration, DCIS and state Medicaid Fraud Control Units.

A complaint, information, or indictment is merely an allegation, and all defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

Additional documents related to this announcement will shortly be available here: https://www.justice.gov/opa/documents-and-resources-july-13-2017.

This operation also highlights the great work being done by the Department of Justice’s Civil Division.  In the past fiscal year, the Department of Justice, including the Civil Division, has collectively won or negotiated over $2.5 billion in judgements and settlements related to matters alleging health care fraud.

Hospice Company To Pay $2 Million To Resolve Alleged False Claims Related To Unnecessary Hospice Care

Thursday, July 6, 2017

NEWARK, N.J. – A hospice company in Bensalem, Pennsylvania, has agreed to pay to the United States $2 million to resolve allegations that it provided unnecessary hospice services, Acting U.S. Attorney William E. Fitzpatrick announced today.

Compassionate Care of Gwynedd Inc. is a hospice provider based in Bensalem and a subsidiary of Compassionate Care Hospice Group Inc., a Florida corporation with its principal place of business in Parsippany, New Jersey. The settlement announced today follows an investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey and the Commercial Litigation Branch of the Justice Department’s Civil Division. The allegations arose from a whistle-blower suit filed under the False Claims Act.

The United States alleges that from Jan. 1, 2005, through Nov. 15, 2011, Compassionate Care of Gwynedd admitted patients who did not need hospice care and billed Medicare for these medically unnecessary services. The government alleges that the company admitted these patients by using a diagnosis of “debility” that was not medically justified.

The relators, or whistler-blowers, in the underlying qui tam will receive more than $350,000 as their statutory share of the recovery under the False Claims Act. The civil lawsuit was filed in the District of New Jersey and is captioned United States, et al., ex rel. Jane Doe and Mary Roe v. Compassionate Care Hospice, et al.

Acting U.S. Attorney Fitzpatrick credited special agents from the Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Scott J. Lampert, with the investigation leading to the settlement.

The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Charles Graybow of the Health Care and Government Fraud Unit of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey and Trial Attorney Justin Draycott of the Department of Justice’s Civil Division. The Office of Inspector General and the Office of the General Counsel for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services of the Department of Health and Human Services also participated in the investigation and settlement.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey reorganized its health care practice in 2010 and created a stand-alone Health Care and Government Fraud Unit to handle both criminal and civil investigations and prosecutions of health care fraud offenses. Since that time, the office has recovered more than $1.36 billion in health care and government fraud settlements, judgments, fines, restitution and forfeiture under the False Claims Act, the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, and other statutes.

The claims settled by this agreement are allegations only; there have been no admissions of liability.

Counsel for relators: Britton D. Monts Esq., Austin, Texas; Timothy J. McInnis Esq., New York

Counsel for defendant: Sean C. Cenawood Esq., New York

Two More Defendants Plead Guilty in Multimillion Dollar India-Based Call Center Scam Targeting U.S. Victims

Friday, July 7, 2017

An Arizona man and an Illinois woman each pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges today for their respective roles in liquidating and laundering victim payments generated through a massive telephone impersonation fraud and money laundering scheme perpetrated by India-based call centers.

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, Executive Associate Director Peter T. Edge of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), Inspector General J. Russell George of the U.S. Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) and Inspector General John Roth of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General (DHS-OIG) made the announcement.

Bhavesh Patel, 47, most recently residing in Gilbert, Arizona, pleaded guilty to money laundering conspiracy, in violation of Title 18, U.S. Code, Section 1956(h). Asmitaben Patel, 34, most recently residing in Willowbrook, Illinois, pleaded guilty to a conspiracy to commit fraud and money laundering offenses, in violation of Title 18, U.S. Code, Section 371.  The pleas were entered before U.S. District Court Judge David Hittner of the Southern District of Texas. Sentencing dates are pending.

According to admissions made in connection with their respective pleas, Bhavesh Patel, Asmitaben Patel, and their co-conspirators perpetrated a complex scheme in which individuals from call centers located in Ahmedabad, India, impersonated officials from the IRS and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), and engaged in other telephone call scams, in a ruse designed to defraud victims located throughout the U.S. Using information obtained from data brokers and other sources, call center operators targeted U.S. victims who were threatened with arrest, imprisonment, fines or deportation if they did not pay alleged monies owed to the government. Victims who agreed to pay the scammers were instructed how to provide payment, including by purchasing stored value cards or wiring money. Upon payment, the call centers would immediately turn to a network of “runners” based in the U.S. to liquidate and launder the fraudulently-obtained funds.

According to Bhavesh Patel’s guilty plea, beginning in or around January 2014, Bhavesh Patel managed the activities of a crew of runners, directing them to liquidate victim scam funds in areas in and around south and central Arizona per the instructions of conspirators from India-based call centers. Patel communicated via telephone about the liquidation of scam funds with both domestic and India-based co-defendants, and he and his crew used reloadable cards containing funds derived from victims by scam callers to purchase money orders and deposit them into various bank accounts as directed, in return for percentage-based commissions from his India-based co-defendants. Patel also admitted to receiving and using fake identification documents, including phony driver’s licenses, to retrieve victim scam payments in the form of wire transfers, and providing those fake documents to persons he managed for the same purpose.

Based on admissions in Asmitaben Patel’s guilty plea, beginning in or around July 2013, Asmitaben Patel served as a runner liquidating victim scam funds as part of a group of conspirators operating in and around the Chicago area. At the direction of a co-defendant, Patel used stored value cards that had been loaded with victim funds to buy money orders and deposit them into various bank accounts, including the account of a lead generating business in order to pay the company for leads it provided to co-conspirators that were ultimately used to facilitate the scam.

To date, Bhavesh Patel, Asmitaben Patel, 54 other individuals and five India-based call centers have been charged for their roles in the fraud and money laundering scheme in an indictment returned by a federal grand jury in the Southern District of Texas on Oct. 19, 2016. Including today’s pleas, a total of eleven defendants have pleaded guilty thus far in this case. Co-defendants Bharatkumar Patel, Ashvinbhai Chaudhari, Harsh Patel, Nilam Parikh, Hardik Patel, Rajubhai Patel, Viraj Patel, Dilipkumar A. Patel, and Fahad Ali previously pleaded guilty on various dates between April and June 2017.

The remaining defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

HSI, DHS-OIG and TIGTA led the investigation of this case. Also providing significant support were: the Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs; Ft. Bend County, Texas, Sheriff’s Office; police departments in Hoffman Estates and Naperville, Illinois, and Leonia, New Jersey; San Diego County District Attorney’s Office Family Protection and Elder Abuse Unit; U.S. Secret Service; U.S. Small Business Administration, Office of Inspector General; IOC-2; INTERPOL Washington; USCIS; U.S. State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service; and U.S. Attorneys’ Offices in the Middle District of Alabama, Northern District of Alabama, District of Arizona, Central District of California, Northern District of California, District of Colorado, Northern District of Florida, Middle District of Florida, Northern District of Illinois, Northern District of Indiana, District of Nevada and District of New Jersey. The Federal Communications Commission’s Enforcement Bureau also provided assistance in TIGTA’s investigation.

Senior Trial Attorney Michael Sheckels and Trial Attorney Mona Sahaf of the Criminal Division’s Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section, Trial Attorney Robert Stapleton of the Criminal Division’s Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section and Assistant U.S. Attorneys S. Mark McIntyre and Craig M. Feazel of the Southern District of Texas are prosecuting the case.

A  Department of Justice website has been established to provide information about the case to already identified and potential victims and the public. Anyone who believes they may be a victim of fraud or identity theft in relation to this investigation or other telefraud scam phone calls may contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) via this website.

Anyone who wants additional information about telefraud scams generally, or preventing identity theft or fraudulent use of their identity information, may obtain helpful information on the IRS tax scams website, the FTC phone scam website and the FTC identity theft website.