The Federal Medicare Fraud Strike Force’s arrest of 36 providers in California and Florida highlights again the continuing and growing zeal of federal health care fraud investigation and enforcement efforts. On May 14, 2013 the Justice Department announced it arrested and charged with Medicare fraud 12 defendants in Los Angeles here and 24 South Florida residents here in fraud enforcement actions on opposite coasts. The charges show the continuing commitment by Federal officials to find an prosecute health care fraud.
In South Florida, Federal officials announced charges against 24 South Florida residents for their alleged participation in various schemes to defraud Medicare out of more than $45,299,935 million. The charges in South Florida are part of a nationwide takedown by Medicare Fraud Strike Force operations in eight cities that resulted in charges against 89 individuals, including doctors, nurses and other licensed professionals, for their alleged participation in Medicare fraud schemes involving approximately $223 million in false billings.
Specifically, the South Florida cases announced as part of the nationwide Medicare Fraud Strike Force takedown include the following:
- U.S. v. Emilio Amador, Cristobal Gonzalez, Eduims Mora, Jose Contreras, and Elizabeth Monteagudo, where five defendants are charged with conspiracy to receive health care kickbacks and substantive counts of receiving kickbacks in connection with a federal health care program. According to the indictment, the defendants participated in a scheme involving Caring Nurse Home Health, Corp. and Good Quality Home Health, Inc. The defendants allegedly supplied patients to Caring Nurse and/or Good Quality in exchange for kickbacks and bribes. Caring Nurse and Good Quality, in turn, fraudulently billed Medicare for approximately $50 million for home health services that were not provided and/or were not medically necessary. If convicted, the defendants face up to five years for each count.
- United States v. Rafael Meana and Janet Farigola, where Defendants Rafael Meana and Janet Farigola are charged with conspiracy to commit health care fraud and several substantive counts of health care fraud. According to the indictment, the defendants participated in a scheme involving Lord’s Medical & Rehab Center, Inc. (Lords), a medical clinic that purportedly provided Medicare Advantage beneficiaries with medical items and services. From February 2010 through July 2011, Meana and Farigola allegedly caused Lord’s to submit approximately $5,497,047 in Medicare claims falsely claiming that health care benefits and services were medically necessary and had been provided to Medicare beneficiaries. As a result of the submission of these claims, Medicare paid Lord’s approximately $2,240,134. If convicted, the defendants face up to ten years in prison for each count of health care fraud.
- United States v. Jose Moran, Rafael Meana, and Armando Rubio Cordero, where the defendants are charged with conspiracy to commit health care fraud and several substantive counts of health care fraud. According to the indictment, the defendants participated in a scheme involving Lord Family Services, Inc., a medical clinic that purportedly provided Medicare Advantage beneficiaries with medical items and services. From January 2010 through September 2011, the defendants allegedly caused Lord Family Services, Inc. to submit approximately $1,919,751 in Medicare claims falsely claiming that health care benefits and services were medically necessary and had been provided to Medicare beneficiaries. As a result of the submission of these claims, Medicare paid Lord Family Services, Inc. approximately $976,476. If convicted, the defendants face up to ten years in prison for each count of health care fraud.
- United States v. Karina Merino, where defendant Karina U. Merino is charged with a single count of health care fraud in connection with her role in a massive health care fraud scheme involving Ideal Home Health, Inc. (Ideal), which submitted more than $40 million in fraudulent claims to Medicare. The Information alleges that Merino, as a nurse for Ideal, falsified patient visitation logs to reflect that home health care nursing services had been provided to beneficiaries when such services had, in fact, not been provided. Ideal fraudulently billed the Medicare program for approximately $148,000. If convicted of the health care fraud charge, Merino faces up to ten years in prison.
- United States v. Delia Y. Chaveco and Arturo Y. Chaveco,
where Delia Y. Chaveco and Arturo Y. Chaveco (the Chavecos) were charged by Information with a single count of conspiracy to receive kickbacks in connection with a federal health care benefit program. This charge stems from the Chavecos’ role in a health care fraud scheme involving Ideal Home Health Inc. (Ideal), an agency that submitted more than $40 million in fraudulent claims to the Medicare program. The Information alleges that Ideal and other Miami-Dade area home health agencies paid the Chavecos kickbacks in exchange for recruiting Medicare beneficiaries that they later used to bill the Medicare program. If convicted, the defendants face up to five years in prison.
- United States v. Roberto Marrero, Sandra Fernandez Viera and Enrique Rodriguez, where defendants are charged with conspiracy to commit health care fraud, conspiracy to receive and pay health care kickbacks, and substantive kickback charges. Defendants Roberto Marrero and Sandra Fernandez Viera were the owners and operators of Trust Care Health Services, Inc. (Trust Care), which allegedly paid kickbacks and bribes to patient recruiters and beneficiaries to obtain Medicare beneficiaries, and then submitted more than $20 million in false and fraudulent claims to Medicare, primarily for skilled nursing diabetic care and physical/occupational therapy. Defendant Enrique Rodriguez worked as a patient recruiter for Trust Care, supplying patients in exchange for kickbacks and bribes. A civil injunction is being filed under 18 U.S.C. § 1345 to restrain the defendants’ assets to satisfy restitution in the criminal matter. If convicted, the defendants face up to ten years for the health care fraud charges and five years for each count of the kickback charges.
- United States v. Dora Moreira, Ivan Alejo, and Hugo Morales,
where the defendants are charged with conspiracy to commit health care fraud, conspiracy to receive and pay health care kickbacks, substantive kickback charges, conspiracy to commit money laundering, and substantive money laundering. Defendant Dora Moreira was the owner and operator of Anna Nursing Services Corp. (Anna Nursing), which paid kickbacks and bribes to patient recruiters and beneficiaries to obtain Medicare beneficiaries. Anna Nursing was paid more than $7 million for the false claims it submitted to Medicare, which claims were primarily for physical/occupational therapy. Defendant Ivan Alejo worked at Anna Nursing, and was responsible for, among other things, negotiating kickback rates and distributing kickback payments to patient recruiters on behalf of Anna Nursing. Defendant Hugo Morales worked as a physical therapist on behalf of Anna Nursing, and was responsible for, among other things, fabricating patient medical documentation. Defendant Dora Moreira laundered money for the purpose, among others, of concealing the proceeds of the fraud and the payment of kickbacks to recruiters. The Asset Forfeiture Section has obtained restraining orders on the corporate bank account and on real property that is traceable to the fraud. If convicted, the defendants face up to ten years for the health care fraud charges, five years for each count of the kickback charges, and twenty years for the money laundering charges.
- United States v. Marina Sanchez Pajon and Miguel Jimenez,
where Federal officials charge defendants with conspiracy to commit health care fraud, conspiracy to receive and pay health care kickbacks, and substantive kickback charges. Defendants Marina Sanchez Pajon and Miguel Jimenez were the owners and operators of Flores Home Health Care Inc. (Flores Home Health), which allegedly paid kickbacks and bribes to patient recruiters and beneficiaries to obtain Medicare beneficiaries. Flores Home Health was paid more than $8 million for the false claims it submitted to Medicare, which claims were primarily for physical/occupational therapy. The Asset Forfeiture Section has obtained seizure warrants and restraining orders on five vehicles and bank accounts containing $160,000. They have also filed lis pendens against four real properties that were purchased with proceeds of the fraud. If convicted, the defendants face up to ten years for the health care fraud charges and five years for each count of the kickback charges.
- United States v. Miguel A. Rodriguez, where defendant Miguel A. Rodriguez is charged with three counts of paying kickbacks in connection with a federal health care program. The defendant allegedly paid kickbacks and bribes to induce medical providers to refer Medicare beneficiaries to his medical company for services, including x-rays. If convicted, the defendant faces up to five years in prison for each count of the kickback charges.
- United States v. Enrique Alberto Siret Rodriguez, where defendant Enrique Alberto Siret Rodriguez is charged with four counts of health care fraud and two counts of paying kickbacks in connection with a federal health care program. The defendant allegedly paid kickbacks and bribes to a doctor for fraudulent home health care prescriptions that could be used to fraudulently bill Medicare. If convicted, the defendant faces up to 10 years in prison for each health care fraud count and up to five years for each of the kickback counts.
- United States v. Alberto Cosme Garcia, where defendant Alberto Cosme Garcia is charged with one count of health care fraud and two counts of paying kickbacks in connection with a federal health care program. The defendant allegedly paid kickbacks and bribes to a doctor for fraudulent home health care prescriptions that could be used to fraudulently bill Medicare. If convicted, the defendant faces up to 10 years in prison for the health care fraud count and up to five years for each of the kickback counts.
Los Angeles Charges
In Los Angeles, the Health Care Fraud Task Force action resulted in 12 arrests including California’s second-largest biller for chiropractic services, a physician’s assistant, and owners of durable medical equipment and ambulance companies, in relation to seven criminal cases that the Justice Department alleges resulted in the cumulative submission of more than $22 million in false billings to Medicare. The charges filed in Los Angeles are part of a nationwide “takedown” by Medicare Fraud Strike Force operations in eight cities that led to charges against 89 individuals for their alleged participation in schemes to collectively submit about $223 million in fraudulent claims to Medicare. See here.
The dozen defendants taken into custody are among 13 people charged in Los Angeles in cases that allege health care fraud. A thirteenth defendant is a fugitive.
Federal officials charge Dr. Houshang Pavehzadeh, of the Sylmar Physician Medical Group, allegedly billed Medicare more than $1.7 million for chiropractic treatments he never performed. During the scheme, which ran from 2005 through 2012, Dr. Pavehzadeh, 40, of Agoura Hills, became the second-largest Medicare biller in California for chiropractic services – even though he was not in the United States when some of the alleged services were performed. In addition to being charged with health care fraud, Pavehzadeh is charged with aggravated identity theft related to Medicare beneficiaries whose information he used to bill Medicare as a part of the scheme. When investigators tried to conduct an audit of Pavehzadeh’s claims, he falsely reported to the Los Angeles Police Department that he had been carjacked and that patient files requested by the auditors had been stolen from his car. Pavehzadeh surrendered this morning, and he is scheduled to be arraigned with other Los Angeles-area defendants this afternoon in the Roybal Federal Building.
Nine defendants affiliated with DME companies were also charged in five separate indictments.
- Olufunke Fadojutimi, 41, of Carson, a registered nurse; Ayodeji Temitayo Fatunmbi, 41, formerly of Carson, and now believed to be residing in Nigeria; and Maritza Velazquez, 40, of Las Vegas, were charged with health care fraud. The scheme allegedly revolved around Lutemi Medical Supplies, a DME company Fadojutimi owned and where Fatunmbi and Velazquez worked. According to the indictment in this case, Lutemi billed Medicare more than $8.3 million in claims, primarily for medically unnecessary power wheelchairs. Fadojutimi and Fatunmbi allegedly laundered Medicare funds in order to purchase fraudulent prescriptions for those power wheelchairs and pay illegal kickbacks to recruit Medicare beneficiaries. Fadojutimi was arrested this morning in Los Angeles, while Velazquez was arrested in Las Vegas. Fatunmbi is currently a fugitive being sought by federal authorities.
- Susanna Artsruni, 45, of North Hollywood, and Erasmus Kotey, 76, of Montebello, a licensed physician’s assistant, allegedly worked together to commit health care fraud out of a medical clinic on Vermont Avenue where they both worked. Kotey allegedly prescribed medically unnecessary DME, including power wheelchairs, for Medicare beneficiaries. Many of those power wheelchair prescriptions were then used by Artsruni’s DME company, Midvalley Medical Supply, to support fraudulent claims to Medicare. In only four months, the clinic and Midvalley billed Medicare more than $525,000 for these fraudulent claims. Artsruni has previously been convicted of health care fraud and was on pretrial supervision at the time she allegedly laundered some of the proceeds of this fraud. Artsruni was arrested this morning, while Kotey self-surrendered.
Three other DME cases were also charged, alleging fraudulent Medicare billing for medically unnecessary power wheelchairs that were sometimes never even delivered.
- In one case, Akinola Afolabi, 53, of Long Beach, the owner of Emmanuel Medical Supply, allegedly submitted more than $2.6 million in in false and fraudulent billing to Medicare.
- In another case, Queen Anieze-Smith, 52, of Encino, and Abdul King-Garba, 47, of Westwood, the owners and operators of ITC Medical Supply, allegedly submitted more than $1.8 million in false and fraudulent billing to Medicare.
- In the third case, Clement Etim Aghedo, 53, of Fontana, the owner of Ace Medical Supply Company, allegedly submitted more than $1.8 in false and fraudulent claims to Medicare. Afolabi, Anieze-Smith, and King-Garba were all arrested this morning, while Aghedo self-surrendered.
In the seventh case brought as part of today’s takedown, three defendants affiliated with Gardena-based ProMed Medical Transportation, an ambulance company, were charged with submitting more than $5.9 million in false claims to Medicare between 2008 and 2011. ProMed’s owner, Yaroslav Proshak, 45, of Valley Village; general manager Sharetta Wallace, 35, of Inglewood; and office manager and biller Sergey Mumjian, 40, of West Hollywood, submitted claims for medically unnecessary transportation services and then created fake documentation purporting to support those claims. Proshak, Wallace, and Mumjian were arrested this morning.
The charge of health care fraud carries a statutory maximum penalty of 10 years in federal prison. Money laundering carries a potential penalty of 20 years in prison. Aggravated identity theft carries a mandatory two-year prison term.
Aggressive Medicare Health Care Fraud Task Force Enforcement Continues
The announcement of these arrests provides more evidence of the continuing zealousness of Federal health care fraud investment and enforcement efforts targeting heath care providers for health care fraud or other aggressive activities.
The Medicare Fraud Strike Force operations that lead to todays’ charges are part of the continuing activities 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 March 2007, Federal officials credit Strike Force operations in nine locations with leading to charges against more than 1,500 defendants who collectively have falsely billed the Medicare program for more than $5 billion.
In addition, the HHS Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, working in conjunction with the HHS-OIG, are taking steps to increase accountability and decrease the presence of fraudulent providers.
In announcing the Florida charges, HHS Secretary Sebelius commented on the effect of recent legal changes that have given Federal officials new tools in investigating and fighting health care fraud. She said, “The Affordable Care Act has given us additional tools to preserve Medicare and protect the tens of millions of Americans who rely on it each day,” said Secretary Sebelius. “By expanding our authority to suspend Medicare payments and reimbursements when fraud is suspected, the law allows us to better preserve the system and save taxpayer dollars. Today we’re sending a strong, clear message to anyone seeking to defraud Medicare: You will get caught and you will pay the price. We will protect a sacred trust and an earned guarantee.”
Meanwhile, U.S. Attorney General Holder said, “Today’s announcement marks the latest step forward in our comprehensive efforts to combat fraud and abuse in our health-care systems.”
In the face of these criminal efforts and expanding civil and administrative enforcement actions by Federal officials targeting heaelth care fraud and other aggressive billing and referral efforts, health care providers should exercising continuing care to maintain compliance with applicable rules and carefully document these and other compliance and risk management efforts.
For Help With Compliance, Investigations Or Other Needs
If you need assistance providing compliance or other training, reviewing or responding to these or other health care related risk management, compliance, enforcement or management concerns, the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, may be able to help. Vice President of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section and the former Board Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, Ms. Stamer has more than 24 years experience advising health industry clients about these and other matters. Ms. Stamer has extensive experience advising and assisting health care providers and other health industry clients to establish and administer medical privacy and other compliance and risk management policies, to health care industry investigation, enforcement and other compliance, public policy, regulatory, staffing, and other operations and risk management concerns. A popular lecturer and widely published author on health industry concerns, Ms. Stamer continuously advises health industry clients about compliance and internal controls, workforce and medical staff performance, quality, governance, reimbursement, and other risk management and operational matters. Ms. Stamer also publishes and speaks extensively on health and managed care industry regulatory, staffing and human resources, compensation and benefits, technology, public policy, reimbursement and other operations and risk management concerns/ She also regularly designs and presents risk management, compliance and other training for health care providers, professional associations and others. Her publications and insights appear in the Health Care Compliance Association, Atlantic Information Service, Bureau of National Affairs, World At Work, The Wall Street Journal, Business Insurance, the Dallas Morning News, Modern Health Care, Managed Healthcare, Health Leaders, and a many other national and local publications. You can get more information about her health industry experience here. If you need assistance with these or other compliance concerns, wish to inquire about arranging for compliance audit or training, or need legal representation on other matters please contact Ms. Stamer at (469) 767-8872 or via e-mail here.
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