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Los Angeles-Area Doctor Pleads Guilty to Conspiring to Defraud Medicare of Over $11 Million

Monday, November 26, 2012
Los Angeles-Area Doctor Pleads Guilty to Conspiring to Defraud Medicare of Over $11 Million

WASHINGTON— A Los Angeles-area doctor pleaded guilty today to conspiring to defraud Medicare of over $11 million, announced Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division; U.S. Attorney André Birotte Jr. of the Central District of California; Glenn R. Ferry, Special Agent in Charge for the Los Angeles Region of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG); Bill L. Lewis, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office; and Tony Sidley, Assistant Chief of the California Department of Justice, Bureau of Medi-Cal Fraud and Elder Abuse.

Dr. Juan Tomas Van Putten, 66, of Ladera Heights, Calif., pleaded guilty today before U.S. District Judge George Wu in the Central District of California to one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud.

Van Putten pleaded guilty to obtaining patients for his medical clinic, Greater South Bay Medical Group, which was located in Carson, Calif., and a nursing home where he also saw patients from street-level patient recruiters or “marketers” who illegally solicited patients with Medicare benefits for expensive, highly-specialized power wheelchairs and other durable medical equipment (DME) that the patients did not need.  According to the indictment to which Van Putten pleaded guilty, some of the marketers worked for the operators of fraudulent DME supply companies, including Van Putten’s co-defendants Charles Agbu, a church pastor, and his daughter Obiageli Agbu, who both operated Bonfee Inc. d/b/a “Bonfee Medical Supplies” and Ibon Inc., which were located in Carson.

Van Putten admitted that operators of fraudulent DME supply companies paid him cash kickbacks to write prescriptions for power wheelchairs and other DME that Van Putten knew the patients did not need.  Van Putten admitted that he exaggerated the symptoms and diagnoses that he wrote on the prescriptions to make it appear as if the patients met both the medical and Medicare requirements for the power wheelchairs and DME.  Van Putten admitted that he knew when he provided the prescriptions to the DME company operators that they would use the prescriptions to submit false claims to Medicare.  Van Putten also admitted that he submitted claims to Medicare for services that he provided to the patients at Greater South Bay and the nursing home even though he knew it was illegal for him to provide services to patients who had been recruited by marketers.

As a result of this scheme, court documents indicate that Van Putten and his co-defendants submitted approximately $11,094,918 in false claims to Medicare and received approximately $5,788,725 on those claims.

Charles Agbu and Obiageli Agbu are scheduled for trial on Feb. 26, 2013, for their alleged roles in the conspiracy.  Co-defendants Dr. Emmanuel Ayodele, Alejandro Maciel and Candalaria Estrada have also been charged for their alleged roles in the conspiracy.

Defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty at trial.

At sentencing, scheduled for March 28, 2013, Van Putten faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Jonathan T. Baum of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section.  The case is being investigated by the FBI, HHS-OIG, the California Department of Justice and the Internal Revenue Service.

The case was brought as part of the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, supervised by the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California.  The Medicare Fraud Strike Force operations are part of the Health Care Fraud Prevention & Enforcement Action Team (HEAT), a joint initiative announced in May 2009 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.

Since its inception in March 2007, the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, now operating in nine cities across the country, has charged more than 1,480 defendants who have collectively billed the Medicare program for more than $4.8 billion.  In addition, HHS’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, working in conjunction with HHS-OIG, is taking steps to increase accountability and decrease the presence of fraudulent providers.