This week’s announcement of the criminal sentencing of the co-founder of a clinic that pleaded guilty to health care fraud and other federal crimes for involvement in a scheme to defraud self-insured health plans and the Justice Department announcement of its filing of health care fraud and other federal criminal charges against two operators of a chain of substance abuse clinics for their alleged involvement in a scheme to file false claims with private health plans, Medicare and Medicaid remind health care providers and others participating in schemes to defraud private or public health plans risk criminal conviction.
This week, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky ordered the co-founder of a that Yesdel Acosta Perez to time served of 14 months in prison and to pay $258,507 in restitution for his role in causing health care clinics he cofounded to bill 15 self-funded health plans for $4.7 million in medical services never provided. The conviction reminds health plans, health care providers and others that fraudulently billing self-insured or other private health plans can result in criminal conviction punishable as felony under multiple provisions of the United States Criminal Code. Acosta Perez’ sentencing coincides with the Justice Department’s announcement of its March 2, 2023 filing of similar criminal charges against the operator of a chain of substance abuse clinics and others for their alleged involvement in millions of dollars of false charges billed to private health plans, Medicare and Medicaid for substance abuse addition treatment not provided.
The conviction and sentencing of Acosta Perez and the newly announced charges against operators of a chain of addiction treatment clinics in Massachusetts and Rhode Island and others for alleged health care fraud aggravated identity theft, money laundering and obstruction in relation to alleged billing of millions of dollars of false charges to private health plans, Medicare and Medicaid for substance abuse treatment by clinics highlight the continuing threat fraudulent actors present for self-insured and other private health plans, Medicare and Medicaid, as well as the potential criminal prosecution and consequences those individuals convicted of these crimes risk from their criminal activity.
Acosta Perez Conviction & Sentencing
The co-founder of Romero Rehabilitation Physical Therapy Inc. and Empire USA Inc. in Louisville and Imaging Group Center Inc. in Atlanta plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit healthcare fraud in February, 2023, after the U.S. Department of Labor found the operators collected $258,000 from 15 self-funded healthcare benefit programs for services they never provided based on fraudulent claims made between 2016 and 2018.
In June, 2018, a federal grand jury indicted Acosta Perez and fellow co-founder Eduardo Chinea-Martinez and others on multiple counts of Health Care Fraud in violation of 18 U.S.C. §1347, Theft from a Health Care Benefit Program in violation of 18 U.S.C. §669, Aggravated Identity Theft in violation of 18 U.S 8 U.S.C. §1028A, Money Laundering in violation of 18 U,S,C. §1956, Mail Fraud in violation of 18 U.S.C Chapter 63 and aiding and abetting in the commission of these violations under 18 U.S.C. §1349. billing various healthcare benefit programs through claims administrators Humana, CIGNA and United Healthcare for $4.7 million for services never provided. The U.S. Criminal Code authorized potential sentences of between 10 to 20 years of imprisonment as well as subjected charged defendants to asset forfeiture upon conviction.
The grand jury inditement and subsequent prosecution of Acosta Perz and a fellow co-founder resulted from an Employee Benefit Security Benefit Administration investigation that found that, between May 2015 and January 2016, Acosta Perez and Eduardo Chinea-Martinez co-founded three companies to intentionally defraud various healthcare benefit programs. Investigators also determined Acosta Perez opened bank accounts for the fictitious businesses at JPMorgan Chase Bank, Wells Fargo Bank and Bank of America. Acosta Perez and Chinea-Martinez. The indictment charges that Acosta Perez and Chinea-Martinez misappropriated and used patients’ names, dates of birth, insurance/policy numbers, addresses, and patient IDs/Social Security Numbers, without the patients’ knowledge and names and National Provider Numbers (“NPIs”) from uninvolved doctors without the doctors’ knowledge to create claims for payment by representing these uninvolved doctors and clinics allegedly ordered or performed the services in the false and fraudulent billings submitted by defendants for payment to submit fraudulent claims. The fraudulent claims directed the plans to send payment for the billed services to a Regus virtual office location in Louisville, Kentucky. Acosta Perez then directed Regus via email to forward all mail to Romero Rehabilitation Physical Therapy. According to the indictment, using this process to submit claims for payment for the fraudulent services, Chinea-Martinez and Acosta Perez billed approximately $4,700,000 in fraudulent medical services to the self-insured plans and received payment for $258,000.
In March 2020, the court sentenced Chinea-Martinez to 42 months in prison and three years of supervised release for his part in the scheme. However, before his in June 2018, Acosta Perez fled the U.S. On July 22, 2022, however, the Italian government granted the request of the U.S. for the extradition of Acosta Perez and surrendered him to U.S. authorities. Acosta-Perez was arrested in June 2022.
New Health Care Fraud Charges Against Rhode Island and Massachusetts Addiction Treatment Chain Operators
Acosta-Perez’s sentencing coincides with the Justice Department’s March 2, 2023 announcement of its filing of a host of similar charges in Rhode Island against the operator of a chain of addiction treatment clinics and others for alleged aggravated identity theft, money laundering and obstruction in relation to theft of the identities and other patient and provider information and using their information to file false charges billed to private health plans, Medicare and Medicaid for substance abuse treatment by clinics.
Michael Brier, Mi Ok Bruining and Recovery Connections Centers of America, Inc. (RCCA) are charged in a federal criminal complaint with health care fraud and Michael Brier also is charged with aggravated identity theft, money laundering and obstruction. In addition, the treatment center and its former supervisory counselor were also charged with health care fraud. The Justice Department announcement of these charges reminds readers that its federal criminal complaint is merely an accusation and that the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
The Justice Department alleges in court documents that, Brier, Bruining, and RCCA shortchanged Rhode Island and Massachusetts substance abuse disorder patients out of much needed counseling and treatment services, while defrauding Medicare, Medicaid, and other health insurers out of millions of dollars.
According to the charging documents, Brier, Bruining and RCCA operated a chain of addiction treatment centers but failed to provide the patients with the required counseling sessions and treatment, while simultaneous billing Medicare, Medicaid and other health care payors for 45-minute counseling sessions on a routine basis even though the sessions were not more than 15 minutes, and often only 5-10 minutes or less. At times, so many counseling sessions were billed at this level that the total amount of time would be impossible for the available therapist to have provided in any 24 hours period.
Brier and RCCA are also alleged to have caused a fraudulent application to be submitted to Medicare which, among other things, misrepresented and concealed the role that Brier was playing in the business and failed to disclose Brier’s 2013 criminal conviction for federal tax crimes, which was relevant to Medicare’s consideration of the application.
The Complaint also alleges that Brier purported to practice medicine and wrote and caused to be filled fraudulent prescriptions using the names and prescriber information, including Drug Enforcement Administration numbers, of doctors without their permission.
Brier is also alleged to have falsified a document in a matter within the jurisdiction of an agency of the United States by causing the Medical Director to sign a false and back-dated document.
The complaint alleges that defendants caused millions of dollars in fraudulent billings to be submitted to Medicare and millions more in fraudulent billings to other health care payors. The government is also seeking to forfeit thirteen bank accounts, two buildings, and two vehicles allegedly realized by the defendants as a result of the alleged criminal conduct.
The two prosecutions highlight the serious criminal consequences that health care providers or others participating in schemes to defraud employer or union sponsored self-insured health plans, group or individual health insurance, Medicare, Medicaid or other public or private health care programs can face under a host of federal criminal statutes. The felony liability imposed under these statutes makes it critical that health care providers, payers and other organizations involved in providing or billing for health care services both ensure that their programs are designed and administered to be legally defensible as well as to guard against the misuse of their systems, operations or data by insiders from misappropriating and using their systems, practices or data for illicit billing or other fraudulent purposes.
To maintain and promote the effectiveness of these efforts, organizations and their leaders also should consider the advisability of enhancing these fraud and other compliance efforts, as well as updating their organization’s Federal Sentencing Guideline and other compliance programs and practices in light of the new corporate criminal conduct Voluntary Self-Disclosure Policy (“VSD policy”) announced by the Department of Justice on February 23, 2023. Concurrently, organizations and their leaders also will want to monitor and respond promptly to Justice Department statements and congressional recommendations on proposed Guideline changes providing critical insights into the Justice Department’s planned interpretation and enforcement of federal criminal laws and the Guidelines against organizations and their leaders like those available here. For more information about the VSD policy and its implications on your organization under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, see Ensure Health Care & Other Compliance Practices Updated For New DOJ Voluntary Disclosure Policy.
We hope this update is helpful. For more information about the these or other health or other legal, management or public policy developments, please contact the author Cynthia Marcotte Stamer via e-mail or via telephone at (214) 452 -8297.
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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 35+ years of workforce and other management work, public policy leadership and advocacy, coaching, teachings, scholarship and thought leadership.
A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, Vice Chair of the American Bar Association (“ABA”) International Section Life Sciences and Health Committee, Past Chair of the ABA Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, Scribe for the ABA JCEB Annual Agency Meeting with HHS-OCR, past chair of the ABA RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group and current co-Chair of its Welfare Benefit Committee, Ms. Stamer’s work throughout her 35 year career has focused heavily on working with health care and managed care, health and other employee benefit plan, insurance and financial services and other public and private organizations and their technology, data, and other service providers and advisors domestically and internationally with legal and operational compliance and risk management, performance and workforce management, regulatory and public policy and other legal and operational concerns. As an ongoing component of this work, she regularly advises, represents and defends businesses on Guideline Program and other compliance, risk management and other internal and external controls in a wide range of areas and has published and spoken extensively on these concerns.
Ms. Stamer also is widely recognized for her decades of pragmatic, leading edge work, scholarship and thought leadership on workforce, compensation, and other operations, risk management, compliance and regulatory and public affairs concerns.
For more information about Ms. Stamer or her health industry and other experience and involvements, see www.cynthiastamer.com or contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at (214) 452-8297 or via e-mail here.
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