Florida physician Joaquin Mendez was sentenced to serve 48 months in prison, followed by one year of supervised release and pay $2,198,520.37 in restitution for participating in a now notorious multi-million dollar health care fraud and money laundering scheme under which Mendez, along with co-defendants Kenneth Chatman, Fransesia Davis, and Michael Bonds defrauded public and private payers by giving free or reduced rent and other benefits as kickbacks and bribes to individuals with insurance who agreed to reside at Reflections Treatment Center sober homes, attend drug treatment, and submit to regular drug testing that members of the conspiracy could bill to the residents’ insurance plans. A Southern District of Florida Judge on Thursday, November 9, 2017 imposed the sentence as punishment for Mendez’s previously entered guilty plea to one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1347; all in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1349.
The case is notable not only for its colorful facts, but also broad reaching participation and collaboration of federal and state law enforcement and other agencies that collaborated in the investigations and prosecutions that lead to the prosecution and conviction of Mendez and his co-defendants.
Mendez’s sentencing wraps up the last prosecutions arising from a now notorious federal health care fraud scheme under which federal prosecutors charged Mendez and the other co-defendants referred the sober homes’ residents who had insurance to Reflections Treatment Centers that purportedly offered clinical treatment services for persons suffering from alcohol and drug addiction while continuing to allow residents to use drugs and in some cases forcing female patients into prostitution.
According to prosecutors, Reflections Treatment Centers owner defendant Chatman hired defendant Mendez and other doctors to serve as medical directors of his treatment centers. As medical director, Mendez was purportedly responsible for evaluating patients and prescribing medically necessary treatment and testing. Instead of Mendez using his medical expertise and his individual assessments of patients to decide what type of laboratory testing was needed by each patient, co-defendant Chatman dictated the type and frequency of different types of lab testing that would be performed based upon the kickbacks and bribes that he was receiving from different clinical laboratories. Mendez facilitated this testing by signing doctor’s orders for urine drug tests and certificates of medical necessity for saliva drug tests, although Mendez had never seen some of the patients. Prosecutors also charged Mendez signed off on hundreds of “certificates of medical necessity” for urine and saliva tests after the testing had already been done including some tests ordered after the patients already had been discharged from Reflections Treatment Centers. When he examined treatment center patients, Mendez billed those patients’ insurance plans using procedure codes that reflected more complex and lengthier examinations than Mendez actually performed. Prosecutors charge that Mendez knew that insurance claims for the medically unnecessary tests that he prescribed would be submitted to the patients’ insurance companies.
Beyond fraudulently billing public and private health plans for health care services, federal prosecutors also charged that Mendez’s failure to properly evaluate and supervise patients facilitated Chatman’s commission of other crimes besides health care fraud through his operation of the Reflections Treatment Centers. According to federal prosecutors, had Mendez properly supervised the drug test results for the tests that he ordered, he would have noticed that drug use was rampant among patients in residence at the facilities. Federal prosecutors charge that 90 percent of the people in residence at Reflections Treatment Centers continued to actively use drugs during their stay. According to federal prosecutors, at least four people died of overdoses while Reflections Treatment Centers residents.
Aside from his fraudulent billing scheme, Federal prosecutors also charged that Chatman restrained some female patients and forced them into prostitution.
Mendenz’s sentencing wraps up the final prosecution of defendants arising from the Reflections Treatment Centers sting. Chatman previously was sentenced to 27½ years in prison in May. All of the other defendants also took plea deals, including another doctor and Chatman’s wife.
The prosecution of Mendez and his co-defendants resulted from an investigation conducted by the Greater Palm Beach Health Care Fraud Task Force. Agencies of the task force include the FBI, IRS-CI, the Palm Beach County State Attorney’s Office Sober Homes Task Force, Florida Division of Investigative and Forensic Services, Martin County Sheriff’s Office, Amtrak-Office of Inspector General, the Department of Labor Inspector General and Employee Benefit Security Administration, the National Insurance Crime Bureau, the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, the West Palm Beach Police Department, the Delray Beach Police Department, the Florida Attorney General Office of Statewide Prosecution, and the Office of Personnel Management Office of Inspector General.
The cases against Mendez and his co-defendants were prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney A. Marie Villafaña; Benjamin G. Greenberg, Acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida; Robert F. Lasky, Special Agent in Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Miami Field Office; Kelly R. Jackson, Special Agent in Charge, Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI); Dave Aronberg, State Attorney, Palm Beach County State Attorney’s Office; Jimmy Patronis, Florida Chief Financial Officer; William D. Snyder, Sheriff, Martin County Sheriff’s Office; George L. Dorsett, Assistant Inspector General for Investigations, Amtrak Office of Inspector General; Rafiq Ahmad, Special Agent in Charge, United States Department of Labor, Office of Inspector General ; Isabel Colon, Regional Director, United States Department of Labor, Employee Benefits Security Administration; Dennis Russo, Director of Operations, National Insurance Crime Bureau; Ric Bradshaw, Sheriff, Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office; Sarah J. Mooney, Chief, West Palm Beach Police Department; Jeffrey S. Goldman, Chief, Delray Beach Police Department; Pam Bondi, Florida Attorney General; and Scott Rezendes, Special Agent in Charge, Office of Personnel Management, Office of Inspector General.
About the Author
Recognized by her peers as a Martindale-Hubble “AV-Preeminent” (Top 1%) and “Top Rated Lawyer” with special recognition LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® as “LEGAL LEADER™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in Health Care Law and Labor and Employment Law; as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the fields of “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: Erisa & Employee Benefits,” “Health Care” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and management consultant, author, public policy advocate and lecturer widely known for 30+ years of health industry and other management work, public policy leadership and advocacy, coaching, teachings, and publications.
Ms. Stamer’s legal, management, governmental affairs work and speaking and publications have focused on helping health industry, health benefit and other organizations and their management use the law, performance and risk management tools and process to manage people, performance, quality, compliance, operations and risk.
Highly valued for her rare ability to find pragmatic client-centric solutions by combining her detailed legal and operational knowledge and experience with her talent for creative problem-solving, Ms. Stamer supports these organizations and their leaders on both a real-time, “on demand” basis as well as outsourced operations or special counsel on an interim, special project, or ongoing basis with strategic planning and product and services development and innovation; workforce and operations management, crisis preparedness and response as well as to prevent, stabilize and cleanup legal and operational crises large and small that arise in the course of operations.
As core components of this work, Ms. Stamer helps health industry, health plans and insurers, health IT, life sciences and other health industry clients manage regulatory, contractual and other compliance; vendors and suppliers; Medicare, Medicaid, CHIP, Medicare/Medicaid Advantage, ERISA and other private payer and other terms of participation, medical billing, reimbursement, claims administration and coordination, and other provider-payer relations, contracting, compliance and enforcement; Form 990 and other nonprofit and tax-exemption; fundraising, investors, joint venture, and other business partners; quality and other performance measurement, management, discipline and reporting; physician and other workforce recruiting, performance management, peer review and other investigations and discipline, wage and hour, payroll, gain-sharing and other pay-for performance and other compensation, training, outsourcing and other human resources and workforce matters; board, medical staff and other governance; strategic planning, process and quality improvement; meaningful use, EMR, HIPAA and other technology, data security and breach and other health IT and data; STARK, antikickback, insurance, and other fraud prevention, investigation, defense and enforcement; audits, investigations, and enforcement actions; trade secrets and other intellectual property; crisis preparedness and response; internal, government and third-party licensure, credentialing, accreditation, HCQIA and other peer review and quality reporting, audits, investigations, enforcement and defense; patient relations and care; internal controls and regulatory compliance; payer-provider, provider-provider, vendor, patient, governmental and community relations; facilities, practice, products and other sales, mergers, acquisitions and other business and commercial transactions; government procurement and contracting; grants; tax-exemption and not-for-profit; 1557 and other Civil Rights; privacy and data security; training; risk and change management; regulatory affairs and public policy; process, product and service improvement, development and innovation, and other legal and operational compliance and risk management, government and regulatory affairs and operations concerns.
Her clients include public and private, domestic and international hospitals, health care systems, clinics, skilled nursing, long term care, rehabilitation and other health care providers and facilities; medical staff, accreditation, peer review and quality committees and organizations; billing, utilization management, management services organizations, group purchasing organizations; pharmaceutical, pharmacy, and prescription benefit management and organizations; consultants; investors; technology, billing and reimbursement and other services and product vendors; products and solutions consultants and developers; investors; managed care organizations, insurers, self-insured health plans and other payers; and other health industry clients to establish and administer compliance and risk management policies; comply with requirements, investigate and respond to Board of Medicine, Health, Nursing, Pharmacy, Chiropractic, and other licensing agencies, Department of Aging & Disability, FDA, Drug Enforcement Agency, OCR Privacy and Civil Rights, Department of Labor, IRS, HHS, DOD, FTC, SEC, CDC and other public health, Department of Justice and state attorneys’ general and other federal and state agencies; JCHO and other accreditation and quality organizations; private litigation and other federal and state health care industry investigation, enforcement including insurance or other liability management and allocation; process and product development, contracting, deployment and defense; evaluation, commenting or seeking modification of regulatory guidance, and other regulatory and public policy advocacy; training and discipline; enforcement, and a host of other related concerns for public and private health care providers, health insurers, health plans, technology and other vendors, employers, and others.and other compliance, public policy, regulatory, staffing, and other operations and risk management concerns.
Author of leading works on a multitude of health care, health plan and other health industry matters, the American Bar Association (ABA) International Section Life Sciences Committee Vice Chair, a Scribe for the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits (JCEB) Annual OCR Agency Meeting, former Vice President of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section, past ABA JCEB Council Representative and CLE and Marketing Committee Chair, past Board President of Richardson Development Center (now Warren Center) for Children Early Childhood Intervention Agency, past North Texas United Way Long Range Planning Committee Member, and past Board Member and Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, Ms. Stamer’s health industry clients include public health organizations; public and private hospitals, healthcare systems, clinics and other health care facilities; physicians, physician practices, medical staff, and other provider organizations; skilled nursing, long term care, assisted living, home health, ambulatory surgery, dialysis, telemedicine, DME, Pharma, clinics, and other health care providers; billing, management and other administrative services organizations; insured, self-insured, association and other health plans; PPOs, HMOs and other managed care organizations, insurance, claims administration, utilization management, and other health care payers; public and private peer review, quality assurance, accreditation and licensing; technology and other outsourcing; healthcare clearinghouse and other data; research; public and private social and community organizations; real estate, technology, clinical pathways, and other developers; investors, banks and financial institutions; audit, accounting, law firm; consulting; document management and recordkeeping, business associates, vendors, and service providers and other professional and other health industry organizations; academic medicine; trade associations; legislative and other law making bodies and others.
Past Chair of the ABA Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group and, a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, Ms. Stamer also has extensive health care reimbursement and insurance experience advising and defending health care providers, payers, and others about Medicare, Medicaid, Medicare and Medicaid Advantage, Tri-Care, self-insured group, association, individual and group and other health benefit programs and coverages including but not limited to advising public and private payers about coverage and program design and documentation, advising and defending providers, payers and systems and billing services entities about systems and process design, audits, and other processes; provider credentialing, and contracting; providers and payer billing, reimbursement, claims audits, denials and appeals, coverage coordination, reporting, direct contracting, False Claims Act, Medicare & Medicaid, ERISA, state Prompt Pay, out-of-network and other nonpar insured, and other health care claims, prepayment, post-payment and other coverage, claims denials, appeals, billing and fraud investigations and actions and other reimbursement and payment related investigation, enforcement, litigation and actions.
Heavily involved in health care and health information technology, data and related process and systems development, policy and operations innovation and a Scribe for ABA JCEB annual agency meeting with OCR for many years who has authored numerous highly-regarded works and training programs on HIPAA and other data security, privacy and use, Ms. Stamer also is widely recognized for her extensive work and leadership on leading edge health care and benefit policy and operational issues including meaningful use and EMR, billing and reimbursement, quality measurement and reimbursement, HIPAA, FACTA, PCI, trade secret, physician and other medical confidentiality and privacy, federal and state data security and data breach and other information privacy and data security rules and many other concerns. Her work includes both regulatory and public policy advocacy and thought leadership, as well as advising and representing a broad range of health industry and other clients about policy design, drafting, administration, business associate and other contracting, risk assessments, audits and other risk prevention and mitigation, investigation, reporting, mitigation and resolution of known or suspected violations or other incidents and responding to and defending investigations or other actions by plaintiffs, DOJ, OCR, FTC, state attorneys’ general and other federal or state agencies, other business partners, patients and others.
Ms. Stamer has worked extensively with health care providers, health plans, health care clearinghouses, their business associates, employers and other plan sponsors, banks and other financial institutions, and others on risk management and compliance with HIPAA, FACTA, trade secret and other information privacy and data security rules, including the establishment, documentation, implementation, audit and enforcement of policies, procedures, systems and safeguards, investigating and responding to known or suspected breaches, defending investigations or other actions by plaintiffs, OCR and other federal or state agencies, reporting known or suspected violations, business associate and other contracting, commenting or obtaining other clarification of guidance, training and and enforcement, and a host of other related concerns. Her clients include public and private health care providers, health insurers, health plans, technology and other vendors, and others. In addition to representing and advising these organizations, she also has conducted training on Privacy & The Pandemic for the Association of State & Territorial Health Plans, as well as HIPAA, FACTA, PCI, medical confidentiality, insurance confidentiality and other privacy and data security compliance and risk management for Los Angeles County Health Department, MGMA, ISSA, HIMMS, the ABA, SHRM, schools, medical societies, government and private health care and health plan organizations, their business associates, trade associations and others.
A former lead consultant to the Government of Bolivia on its Pension Privatization Project with extensive domestic and international public policy concerns in Pensions, healthcare, workforce, immigration, tax, education and other areas.
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, privacy and data security, 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.
A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, Ms. Stamer also shares her thought leadership, experience and advocacy on these and other related concerns by her service in the leadership of the Solutions Law Press, Inc. Coalition for Responsible Health Policy, its PROJECT COPE: Coalition on Patient Empowerment, and a broad range of other professional and civic organizations including North Texas Healthcare Compliance Association, a founding Board Member and past President of the Alliance for Healthcare Excellence, past Board Member and Board Compliance Committee Chair for the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas; former Board President of the early childhood development intervention agency, The Richardson Development Center for Children (now Warren Center For Children); current Vice Chair of the ABA Tort & Insurance Practice Section Employee Benefits Committee, current Vice Chair of Policy for the Life Sciences Committee of the ABA International Section, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section, a current Defined Contribution Plan Committee Co-Chair, former Group Chair and Co-Chair of the ABA RPTE Section Employee Benefits Group, past Representative and chair of various committees of ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits; a ABA Health Law Coordinating Council representative, former Coordinator and a Vice-Chair of the Gulf Coast TEGE Council TE Division, past Chair of the Dallas Bar Association Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Committee, a former member of the Board of Directors of the Southwest Benefits Association and others.
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