7 Arrested, Charged In Detroit-Area Home Health Care Fraud Takedown

January 18, 2013

January 17, 2013; U.S. Department of Justice

Seven Arrested, Charged with $22 Million Detroit-area Home Health Care Fraud Scheme

Six Detroit-area residents and one Chicago-area resident were arrested on January 17, 2012 by federal agents on charges arising from the ongoing investigation into an alleged $22 million home health care fraud scheme that the indictment charges operated out of four Oakland County, Michigan home health agencies claiming to provide in-home health service, Royal Home Health Care Inc., Prestige Home Health Services Inc., Platinum Home Health Services Inc. and Empirical Home Health Care Inc. (the “Agencies”).  The defendants arrested are Detroit-area residents Muhammad Aamir, Usman Butt, Hemal Bhagat, Syed Shah, Tariq Tahir, and Raquel Ellington, and Chicago-area resident Tayyab Aziz (the “Defendants”).

According to the Justice Department, the arrests and Medicare payment suspensions stem from charges brought in an 18-count indictment returned January 15, 2013, which alleges that the Defendants participated in a Medicare fraud scheme operating out of the Agencies. The indictment alleges Medicare paid the agencies approximately $22 million for fraudulently reported services since August 2008. See Aamir, Muhammed et al. (Prestige) Indictment.  In addition to the arrests, law enforcement agents suspended Medicare payments to the Agencies associated with the alleged scheme.

According to the indictment, Aamir and Butt owned and operated Prestige; Butt, Bhagat and Shah owned and operated Royal; and Aamir owned and operated Platinum and Empirical.  The indictment alleges that of the Agencies allegedly claimed to provide home health therapy services to Medicare beneficiaries that were unnecessary and/or were never performed.  The indictment also alleges that Tahir and Ellington recruited Medicare beneficiaries, paying them kickbacks for their Medicare information and signatures on documents that detailed physical therapy and/or skilled nursing services that were either never rendered or not medically necessary.  The indictment also charges Aamir, Butt, Bhagat, Shah, Tahir and Ellington with conspiring to pay kickbacks to Tahir and Ellington for their recruiting work and Butt, Bhagat, Shah and Aziz with allegedly conspiring to launder the proceeds of the scheme.

Based on the alleged conduct, the indictment charges each of the Defendants with conspiracy to commit health care fraud.  All but Aziz are also charged with health care fraud and with conspiracy to violate the Anti-Kickback Statute.  Butt, Bhagat, Shah and Aziz are additionally charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering.

A conviction on the charges is likely to carry heavy penalities.  The charges of health care fraud conspiracy and health care fraud each carry a maximum potential penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.  The charge of conspiracy to violate the Anti-Kickback Statute carries a maximum potential penalty of five years in prison and a $25,000 fine.  The charge of conspiracy to commit money laundering carries a maximum potential penalty of 20 years in prison and a $500,000 fine.
 
The arrests and indictments reflect the continuing and growing government commitment to, coordination and sophistication in the investigation and prosecution of health care crimes by health care providers in the federal war on what officials view as health care fraud.  The Obama Administration has made investigation and prosecution of health care fraud laws a key element of its strategy to manage U.S. health care program costs. Recently enacted changes in the False Claims Act and other laws are making it easier for federal prosecutors to successfully prosecute these and other health care fraud cases.

Since their inception in March 2007, the the HEAT health care fraud task force operations in nine locations have lead to charges against more than 1,480 defendants who Federal officals claim collectively have falsely billed the Medicare program for more than $4.8 billion.  In addition, the HHS Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, working in conjunction with the HHS-OIG, are taking steps to exclude and impose other remedies against health care providers that it perceives engage in fraud or other aggressive billing or other practices.These and other stepped up oversight and enforcement activities make it critical that all health industry organizations strengthen their internal controls, compliance and audit activities as well as be prepared to defend their actions against the rising tide of federal and state oversight and enforcement.

For Help With Compliance, Risk Management, Investigations, Policy Updates Or Other Needs

If you need help with HIPAA or other health industry, regulatory policy or enforcement developments, or to review or respond to these or other health care or health IT 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, health plans, their business associates 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. She regularly designs and presents HIPAA and other risk management, compliance and other training for health plans, employers, health care providers, professional associations and others.

Scheduled to serve as the scribe for the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits agency meeting with OCR, Ms. Stamer also regularly works with OCR and other agencies, publishes and speaks extensively on medical and other privacy and data security, health and managed care industry regulatory, staffing and human resources, compensation and benefits, technology, public policy, reimbursement and other operations and risk management concerns.  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.   For instance, Ms. Stamer for the second year will serve as the appointed scribe for the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Agency meeting with OCR.  Her insights on HIPAA risk management and compliance often appear in medical privacy related publications of a broad range of health care, health plan and other industry publications Among others, she has conducted privacy training for the Association of State & Territorial Health Plans (ASTHO), the Los Angeles Health Department, the American Bar Association, the Health Care Compliance Association, a multitude of health industry, health plan, insurance and financial services, education, employer employee benefit and other clients, trade and professional associations and others.  You can get more information about her HIPAA and other experience here.

If you need help with these or other compliance concerns, wish to ask 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.

You can review other recent publications and resources and additional information about the other experience of Ms. Stamer hereExamples of some recent publications that may be of interest include:

If you need help investigating or responding to a known or suspected compliance, litigation or enforcement or other risk management concern, assistance with reviewing, updating, administering or defending a current or proposed employment, employee benefit, compensation or other management practice, wish to inquire about federal or state regulatory compliance audits, risk management or training, or need legal representation on other matters please contact Ms Stamer here or at (469) 767-8872.

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ provides business and management information, tools and solutions, training and education, services and support to help organizations and their leaders promote effective management of legal and operational performance, regulatory compliance and risk management, data and information protection and risk management and other key management objectives.  Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ also conducts and assist businesses and associations to design, present and conduct customized programs and training targeted to their specific audiences and needs.  For additional information about upcoming programs, to explore becoming a presenting sponsor for an upcoming event, e-mail your request to info@Solutionslawpress.com   These programs, publications and other resources are provided only for general informational and educational purposes. Neither the distribution or presentation of these programs and materials to any party nor any statement or information provided in or in connection with this communication, the program or associated materials are intended to or shall be construed as establishing an attorney-client relationship, to constitute legal advice or provide any assurance or expectation from Solutions Law Press, Inc., the presenter or any related parties. If you or someone else you know would like to receive future Alerts or other information about developments, publications or programs or other updates, send your request to info@solutionslawpress.com.  CIRCULAR 230 NOTICE: The following disclaimer is included to comply with and in response to U.S. Treasury Department Circular 230 Regulations.  ANY STATEMENTS CONTAINED HEREIN ARE NOT INTENDED OR WRITTEN BY THE WRITER TO BE USED, AND NOTHING CONTAINED HEREIN CAN BE USED BY YOU OR ANY OTHER PERSON, FOR THE PURPOSE OF (1) AVOIDING PENALTIES THAT MAY BE IMPOSED UNDER FEDERAL TAX LAW, OR (2) PROMOTING, MARKETING OR RECOMMENDING TO ANOTHER PARTY ANY TAX-RELATED TRANSACTION OR MATTER ADDRESSED HEREIN. If you are an individual with a disability who requires accommodation to participate, please let us know at the time of your registration so that we may consider your request.

 ©2013 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C. All rights reserved.


Houston Man Gets 24 Month Prison Sentence For Anti-Kickback & Other Health Care Fraud Convictions

June 30, 2012

A Federal judge in Houston on June 25, 2012 gave Kelvin Washington a 24-month federal prison sentence for each of his six convictions of health care fraud, conspiracy conviction and three counts of violating the anti-kickback statute, all to be served concurrently. The court additionally ordered three years supervised release, of which the first 12 months of to be served as home confinement. The Court also ordered Washington to pay approximately $480,000 in restitution to Medicare and Medicaid.

During the December, 2011 trial, Washington was convicted Washington of his six convictions of health care fraud, conspiracy conviction and three counts of violating the anti-kickback statute.  The Department of Justice charged that from 2003 to 2007, Washington received illegal payments for the referral of dialysis patients to a Houston ambulance transport service and conspired with others to have unsuspecting doctors sign transport prescriptions for dialysis patients never admitted to a Sugar Land nursing home where he worked.   During the trial, witnesses testified Washington was paid for the referral of dialysis patients to an ambulance service that was under contract with the nursing home where he worked. Trial evidence also showed he would present prescriptions to doctors who worked at the nursing home. The doctors testified at trial that they would not have signed the prescriptions if they had known the various patients were never admitted to the nursing home.

The jury also heard evidence that the ambulance service paid the Washington in checks totaling $22,200 with many tied to specific patients. Washington did not report all the income he made to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) from the ambulance service. At trial, an undercover video and audio tape showed one of the managers of the ambulance company bribing a patient to ride with the ambulance company. The ambulance company would later bill Medicare for this patient, a paid informant whose own doctors would not sign a prescription for him. The bill to Medicare was based upon a false script from Washington. In a search warrant executed on a co-conspirator’s home, “The List” was discovered which detailed payments made not only to Washington but also to patients who rode with the ambulance service. A computer file from that home also showed detailed records tracking payments for patients, the check numbers for those payments and the fact that payments were made to the defendant.

According to the Justice Department, the false scripts alone resulted in $1.2 million billed to Medicare and Medicaid and approximately $480,000 paid.  For more details, see here.

Health Care Providers Must Act To Manage Risks

In response to the growing emphasis and effectiveness of Federal officials in investigating and taking action against health care providers and organizations, health care providers covered by federal false claims, referral, kickback and other health care fraud laws should consider auditing the adequacy of existing practices, tightening training, oversight and controls on billing and other regulated conduct, reaffirming their commitment to compliance to workforce members and constituents and taking other appropriate steps to help prevent, detect and timely redress health care fraud exposures within their organization and to position their organization to respond and defend against potential investigations or charges.  In light of the growing qui tam risks, health care providers also should tighten internal investigation, exit interview and other human resources and business partner oversight, reporting and investigation policies and practices to help identify and redress potential fraud or other qui tam, retaliation and similar  exposures early and more effectively.  

For More Information Or Assistance

If you need assistance 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. Her experience includes advising hospitals, nursing home, home health, rehabilitation and other health care providers and health industry clients to establish and administer compliance and risk management policies; prevent, conduct and investigate, and respond to peer review and other quality concerns; and to respond to Board of Medicine, Department of Aging & Disability, Drug Enforcement Agency, OCR Privacy and Civil Rights, HHS, DOD and other 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. Her insights on these and other related matters appear in the Health Care Compliance Association, Atlantic Information Service, Bureau of National Affairs, 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 responding to concerns about the matters discussed in this publication or other health care concerns, wish to obtain information about arranging for training or presentations by Ms. Stamer, wish to suggest a topic for a future program or update, or wish to request other information or materials, please contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at (214) 452-8297 or via e-mail here.

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns from Ms. Stamer, see here.

About Solutions Law Press

Solutions Law Press™ provides business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other resources, training and education on human resources, employee benefits, compensation, data security and privacy, health care, insurance, and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and other key operational concerns. If you find this of interest, you also be interested reviewing some of our other Solutions Law Press resources including:

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail – by creating or updating your profile here. For important information concerning this communication click here. 

THE FOLLOWING DISCLAIMER IS INCLUDED TO COMPLY WITH AND IN RESPONSE TO U.S. TREASURY DEPARTMENT CIRCULAR 230 REGULATIONS.  ANY STATEMENTS CONTAINED HEREIN ARE NOT INTENDED OR WRITTEN BY THE WRITER TO BE USED, AND NOTHING CONTAINED HEREIN CAN BE USED BY YOU OR ANY OTHER PERSON, FOR THE PURPOSE OF (1) AVOIDING PENALTIES THAT MAY BE IMPOSED UNDER FEDERAL TAX LAW, OR (2) PROMOTING, MARKETING OR RECOMMENDING TO ANOTHER PARTY ANY TAX-RELATED TRANSACTION OR MATTER ADDRESSED HEREIN.

©2012 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C. Non-exclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press.  All other rights reserved.


Federal HEAT & Other Federal Health Care Fraud Efforts Score More Than 15 Successes As OIG Claims $20.97 Billion Saved From Enforcement Activities In December

December 30, 2009

As the interagency Medicare Fraud Strike Force targeting Medicare Fraud scored another series of more than 15 successful criminal enforcement actions across the national during December, 2009, the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG) credited the Medicare Fraud Strike Force and other stepped up oversight and enforcement activities as helping it achieve $20.97 Billion in Medicare and other federal health care program savings during Fiscal Year 2009 in its Semiannual Report to Congress

The Detroit convictions were among three of more than 15 other criminal enforcement successes reported by the Department of Justice during December.  These and other reports document the rising prosecution and enforcement risks that health care providers face for failing to tailor their billing and other practices to comply with federal health care fraud laws.  In light of the growing enforcement and emphasis of federal prosecutors and regulations on the detection and prosecution of organizations and individuals participating in billing or other activities that violate federal health care fraud laws, health care organizations, their officers, directors, employees, consultants and other business partners should tighten practices and step up oversight to minimize the likelihood that they or their organizations will engage in activities that federal regulators view as federal health care fraud.

December 13 Detroit Criminal Convictions

The U.S. Department of Justice Criminal Division (Justice Department), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) jointly announced Friday (December 11, 2009) that Baskaran Thangarasan, Sandeep Aggarwal and Wayne Smith had plead guilty for their roles in connection with several Detroit-area health care fraud scheme.

On December 9, 2009, Thangarasan plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud and Aggarwal plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to launder money. On December 11, 2009, Smith plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud.

  • Thangarasan Guilty Plea To Conspiracy To Commit Health Care Fraud

On December 9, 2009, Thangarasan plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud. And Aggarwal plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to launder money. He faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine at sentencing.

According to information contained in plea documents, Thangarasan, a licensed physical therapist, admitted that he began working in approximately September 2003 as a contract therapist for a co-conspirator. This co-conspirator owned and controlled several companies operating in the Detroit area that purported to provide physical and occupational therapy services to Medicare beneficiaries. Thangarasan admitted that he, the co-conspirator and others created fictitious therapy files appearing to document physical therapy services provided to Medicare beneficiaries, when in fact no such services had been provided. According to court documents, the fictitious services reflected in the files were billed to Medicare through sham Medicare providers controlled by Thangarasan’s co-conspirators.

Thangarasan admitted that his role in creating the fictitious therapy files was to sign documents and progress notes indicating he had provided physical therapy services to particular Medicare beneficiaries, when in fact he had not. Thangarasan was paid approximately $50 by co-conspirators per file that he falsified in this manner. Thangarasan also admitted that in the course of the scheme charged in the indictment, he signed approximately 1,011 fictitious physical therapy files, falsely indicating he had provided physical therapy services to Medicare beneficiaries. Thangarasan admitted he knew that the files he helped falsify were used to justify fraudulent billings to Medicare.

In addition, Thangarasan admitted that between approximately September 2003 and May 2006, his co-conspirators submitted claims to the Medicare program totaling approximately $5,055,000 for files that were falsified by Thangarasan. Medicare actually paid approximately $2,325,000 on those claims. Thangarasan admitted that throughout the conspiracy, he was fully aware that Medicare was being billed for occupational therapy services he had falsely indicated he had performed.

  • Aggarwal Guilty Plea to Money Laundering

Aggarwal faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $500,000 fine after admitting in the same case to assisting co-conspirator Suresh Chand in laundering the proceeds of Chand’s Medicare fraud scheme. Chand, who pleaded guilty in September 2009 to conspiracy to commit health care fraud and conspiracy to launder money, admitted to conspiring to submit approximately $18 million in fraudulent physical and occupational therapy claims to the Medicare program. Aggarwal, who admitted working at Chand’s office, acknowledged that his role in the scheme was to set up sham entities at Chand’s direction, with the purpose of using those entities to distribute the proceeds of the fraud to the various co-conspirators. According to plea documents, one such entity was called Global Health Care Management Services. Aggarwal admitted that Global Health Care Management Services, which he helped create, provided no health or management services of any type, but existed solely as a mechanism to conceal the location of fraudulently obtained Medicare proceeds. Aggarwal admitted in his plea that he and Chand laundered approximately $393,000 through this sham entity.

  • Smith Guilty Plea To Conspiracy To Commit Health Care Fraud

At sentencing, Smith face a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for his participation in a scheme to falsely bill Medicare.  His indictment charged that he transported and paid Medicare beneficiaries to attend Sacred Hope Center, a Southfield, Mich.-infusion clinic. According to the indictment, the Medicare beneficiaries he paid and transported were paid to sign paperwork indicating that they had received infusions and injections of specialty medications that they did not in fact receive.

According to the indictment, Sacred Hope Center routinely billed the Medicare program for services that were medically unnecessary and/or never provided. The primary owners and operators of Sacred Hope Center have pleaded guilty and admitted purchasing only a small fraction of the medications that the clinic billed the Medicare program for providing. These co-conspirators have also stated that patients were prescribed medications at the clinic based not on medical need, but instead based on which medications were likely to generate Medicare reimbursements.

Other Criminal Enforcement Actions During December

The Detroit convictions are three of nearly 20 successful criminal enforcement activities that DOJ announced during December, 2009.  During the same month, DOJ also announced:

  • On December 20, 2009, sentencing of an Audiologist to six months in prison for Medicare Fraud in California  here
  • On December 17, 2009 , the guilty plea and sentencing of a Houston physician for operating an illegal pill mill here
  • On December 16, 2009, the sentencing in Michigan of the owner of health care agency to 18 months prison in Medicare kickback scheme here
  • On December 15, 2009, the sentencing of a Lexington. South Carolina doctor to perform community service in a health care fraud case  here
  • On December 15, 2009, the guilty plea of a Plymouth, Minnesota man to defrauding Medicaid out of $74,000  here
  • On December 14, 2009, the sentencing of a Miami, Georgia man to more than a decade in Federal prison for million dollar Medicaid fraud here
  • On December 11, 2009, the charging of a durable medical equipment company and six other defendants in Pennsylvania in a Medicare Fraud And Kickback Scheme here
  • On December 11, 2009, the guilty plea of an Aulander, North Carolina woman to $650,000 Health Care Fraud  here
  • On December 7, 2009, the guilty plea of a corporation various health care fraud schemes here
  • On December 6, 2009, the guilty plea of a Dallas, Texas durable medical equipment business owner to aggravated id theft in a Medicare Fraud scheme  here
  • On December 3, 2009, the arrest of the owner of a Florida home health care provider and his alleged accomplice for a scheme to bribe a government contractor  here
  • On December 3, 2009, the conviction of two defendants for Health Care Fraud in Idaho here
  • On December 2, 2009, the entry of an order requiring a Sioux City, Iowa hospital to pay $400,000 to resolve false claims allegations  here
  • On December 1, 2009, the admission by a Maryland man to health care fraud on a hospital in the District of Columbia  here
  • On December 1, 2009, the arrest of a Miami, Florida man for obstructing a Health Care Fraud Investigation here
  • On December 1, 2009, the $125,000  fine of a Michigan chiropractor for Falsifying Records here

HEAT Operations Continued & Expanded

The Detroit and many of these other criminal successes resulted from joint investigations by the FBI and the OIG as part of the Medicare Fraud Strike Force as part of various interagency Medicare Fraud “Strike Forces” operating in several regions of the U.S. as part of the continuing Health Care Fraud Prevention and Enforcement Action Team (HEAT) operations of the FBI, HHS and the Justice Department which DOJ credits with producing more than 250 criminal convictions since their inception,  Based on initial successes of Strike Force operations in Miami (Phase One) and  Los Angeles (Phase Two), the Justice Department and HHS on May 20, 2009 expanded the scope of these operations to include Detroit and Houston Strike Force teams. Recently, DOJ and HHS announced the expansion of its HEAT operations to include Strike Force teams also targeting health care fraud in Brooklyn, New York; Tampa, Florida and Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

The heightened emphasis on enforcement of federal health care fraud laws reflected in the HEAT program the enactment of recent amendments to the False Claims Act, 31 U.S.C. § 3729 (FCA)  under the “Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act of 2009”(FERA).  The FERA amendments increase the likelihood both that whistleblowers will turn in health care providers and other individuals and organizations that file false claims in violation of the FCA and the liability that violators may incur for that misconduct.

The FERA amendments and the HEAT Team and Strike Force activities are part of a broader emphasis in the enforcement of federal health care fraud laws by both the Administration and Congress.  President Obama’s proposed Fiscal Year 2010 budget seeks to further increase funding for fraud prevention and enforcement by investing $311 million — a 50 percent increase from 2009 funding — to strengthen program integrity activities within the Medicare and Medicaid programs.  The Obama Administration anticipates that all combined, the anti-fraud efforts in the President’s budget could save $2.7 billion over five years by improving oversight and stopping fraud in the Medicare and Medicaid programs, including the Medicare Advantage and Medicare prescription drug programs.  Many state agencies also are stepping up their health care fraud investigations and enforcement.

Health Care Providers Must Step Up Compliance & Risk Management

In light of this new emphasis upon health care fraud detection and enforcement, health care providers now more than ever need to prepare to demonstrate the appropriateness and defensibility of their health care billing and other compliance efforts.

Solutions Law Press author and Curran Tomko and Tarski LLP Health Care Practice Chair Cynthia Marcotte Stamer has extensive experience advising and assisting health care practitioners and other businesses and business leaders to establish, administer, investigate and defend health care fraud and other compliance and internal control policies and practices to reduce risk under federal and state health care and other laws. You can get more information about the CTT Health Care Practice  and more specifics about Ms. Stamer’s health industry experience here on the CTT Website.

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 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, CTT Health Care Practice Group Chair, at cstamer@cttlegal.com, 214.270.2402, CTT White Collar Defense Litigation Practice Chair Edwin J. Tomko at etomko@cttlegal.com, or  214.270.1405 or another Curran Tomko Tarski LLP attorney of your choice.. 

Other Helpful Resources & Other Information

We hope that this information is useful to you.   If you found these updates of interest, you also be interested in other updates on HEAT activities such as the following:

Other recent updates that also may be of interested published on our electronic Solutions Law Press Health Care Update publication include:

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please register to receive this Solutions Law Press Health Care Update here and be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail- by creating or updating your profile at here. You can access other recent updates and other informative publications and resources provided by Curran Tomko Tarski LLP attorneys and get information about its attorneys’ experience, briefings, speeches and other credentials here.

For important information concerning this communication click here.  If you do not wish to receive these updates in the future, send an e-mail with the word “Remove” in the Subject here.

©2009 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.  All rights reserved. 


HEAT Initiative Snares Health Fraud Related Guilty Pleas of Physical Therapist, Money Launderer and Patient Recruiter In Detroit

December 14, 2009

By Cynthia Marcotte Stamer

The interagency Medicare Fraud Strike Force targeting Medicare Fraud in the Detroit area scored another series of criminal convictions last week. 

The U.S. Department of Justice Criminal Division (Justice Department), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) jointly announced Friday (December 11, 2009) that Baskaran Thangarasan, Sandeep Aggarwal and Wayne Smith had plead guilty for their roles in connection with several Detroit-area health care fraud scheme.

On December 9, 2009, Thangarasan plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud and Aggarwal plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to launder money. On December 11, 2009, Smith plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud.

Thangarasan Guilty Plea To Conspiracy To Commit Health Care Fraud

On December 9, 2009, Thangarasan plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud. And Aggarwal plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to launder money. He faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine at sentencing.

According to information contained in plea documents, Thangarasan, a licensed physical therapist, admitted that he began working in approximately September 2003 as a contract therapist for a co-conspirator. This co-conspirator owned and controlled several companies operating in the Detroit area that purported to provide physical and occupational therapy services to Medicare beneficiaries. Thangarasan admitted that he, the co-conspirator and others created fictitious therapy files appearing to document physical therapy services provided to Medicare beneficiaries, when in fact no such services had been provided. According to court documents, the fictitious services reflected in the files were billed to Medicare through sham Medicare providers controlled by Thangarasan’s co-conspirators.

Thangarasan admitted that his role in creating the fictitious therapy files was to sign documents and progress notes indicating he had provided physical therapy services to particular Medicare beneficiaries, when in fact he had not. Thangarasan was paid approximately $50 by co-conspirators per file that he falsified in this manner. Thangarasan also admitted that in the course of the scheme charged in the indictment, he signed approximately 1,011 fictitious physical therapy files, falsely indicating he had provided physical therapy services to Medicare beneficiaries. Thangarasan admitted he knew that the files he helped falsify were used to justify fraudulent billings to Medicare.

In addition, Thangarasan admitted that between approximately September 2003 and May 2006, his co-conspirators submitted claims to the Medicare program totaling approximately $5,055,000 for files that were falsified by Thangarasan. Medicare actually paid approximately $2,325,000 on those claims. Thangarasan admitted that throughout the conspiracy, he was fully aware that Medicare was being billed for occupational therapy services he had falsely indicated he had performed.

Aggarwal Guilty Plea to Money Laundering

Aggarwal faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $500,000 fine after admitting in the same case to assisting co-conspirator Suresh Chand in laundering the proceeds of Chand’s Medicare fraud scheme. Chand, who pleaded guilty in September 2009 to conspiracy to commit health care fraud and conspiracy to launder money, admitted to conspiring to submit approximately $18 million in fraudulent physical and occupational therapy claims to the Medicare program. Aggarwal, who admitted working at Chand’s office, acknowledged that his role in the scheme was to set up sham entities at Chand’s direction, with the purpose of using those entities to distribute the proceeds of the fraud to the various co-conspirators. According to plea documents, one such entity was called Global Health Care Management Services. Aggarwal admitted that Global Health Care Management Services, which he helped create, provided no health or management services of any type, but existed solely as a mechanism to conceal the location of fraudulently obtained Medicare proceeds. Aggarwal admitted in his plea that he and Chand laundered approximately $393,000 through this sham entity.

Smith Guilty Plea To Conspiracy To Commit Health Care Fraud

At sentencing, Smith face a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for his participation in a scheme to falsely bill Medicare.  . 

Smith pleaded guilty to an indictment that charged he transported and paid Medicare beneficiaries to attend Sacred Hope Center, a Southfield, Mich.-infusion clinic. According to the indictment, the Medicare beneficiaries he paid and transported were paid to sign paperwork indicating that they had received infusions and injections of specialty medications that they did not in fact receive.

According to the indictment, Sacred Hope Center routinely billed the Medicare program for services that were medically unnecessary and/or never provided. The primary owners and operators of Sacred Hope Center have pleaded guilty and admitted purchasing only a small fraction of the medications that the clinic billed the Medicare program for providing. These co-conspirators have also stated that patients were prescribed medications at the clinic based not on medical need, but instead based on which medications were likely to generate Medicare reimbursements.

HEAT Operations Continuing

The cases are being investigated by the FBI and the HHS Office of the Inspector General. Theses cases were brought as part of the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, supervised by the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Michigan.

The investigation resulting in these guilty pleas were conducted as part of a series of interagency Medicare Fraud “Strike Forces” operating in several regions of the U.S. as part of the continuing Health Care Fraud Prevention and Enforcement Action Team (HEAT) operations of HHS and the Justice Department.  Based on initial successes of Strike Force operations in Miami (Phase One) and  Los Angeles (Phase Two), the Justice Department and HHS on May 20, 2009 expanded the scope of these operations to include Detroit and Houston Strike Force teams.

The heightened emphasis on enforcement of federal health care fraud laws reflected in the HEAT program the enactment of recent amendments to the False Claims Act, 31 U.S.C. § 3729 (FCA)  under the “Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act of 2009”(FERA).  The FERA amendments increase the likelihood both that whistleblowers will turn in health care providers and other individuals and organizations that file false claims in violation of the FCA and the liability that violators may incur for that misconduct.

The FERA amendments and the HEAT Team and Strike Force activities are part of a broader emphasis in the enforcement of federal health care fraud laws by both the Administration and Congress.  President Obama’s proposed Fiscal Year 2010 budget seeks to further increase funding for fraud prevention and enforcement by investing $311 million — a 50 percent increase from 2009 funding — to strengthen program integrity activities within the Medicare and Medicaid programs.  The Obama Administration anticipates that all combined, the anti-fraud efforts in the President’s budget could save $2.7 billion over five years by improving oversight and stopping fraud in the Medicare and Medicaid programs, including the Medicare Advantage and Medicare prescription drug programs.  Many state agencies also are stepping up their health care fraud investigations and enforcement.

In light of this new emphasis upon health care fraud detection and enforcement, health care providers now more than ever need to prepare to demonstrate the appropriateness and defensibility of their health care billing and other compliance efforts.

Solutions Law Press author and Curran Tomko and Tarski LLP Health Care Practice Chair Cynthia Marcotte Stamer has extensive experience advising and assisting health care practitioners and other businesses and business leaders to establish, administer, investigate and defend health care fraud and other compliance and internal control policies and practices to reduce risk under federal and state health care and other laws. 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 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, CTT Health Care Practice Group Chair, at cstamer@cttlegal.com, 214.270.2402 or your other favorite Curran Tomko Tarski LLP attorney. 

Other Helpful Resources & Other Information

We hope that this information is useful to you.   If you found these updates of interest, you also be interested in other updates on HEAT activities such as the following:

Other recent updates that also may be of interested published on our electronic Solutions Law Press Health Care Update publication include:

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please register to receive this Solutions Law Press Health Care Update here and be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail- by creating or updating your profile at here. You can access other recent updates and other informative publications and resources provided by Curran Tomko Tarski LLP attorneys and get information about its attorneys’ experience, briefings, speeches and other credentials here.

For important information concerning this communication click here.  If you do not wish to receive these updates in the future, send an e-mail with the word “Remove” in the Subject here.

©2009 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.  All rights reserved. 


Pfizer To Pay $2.3 Billion For Fraudulent Marketing In Largest DOJ Health Care Fraud Settlement

September 2, 2009

Announcement Highlights Growing Fraud Prosecution Risks of Health Industry Businesses

Today’s announcement that Pfizer Inc. and its subsidiary Pharmacia & Upjohn Company Inc. (collectively “Pfizer”) will pay $2.3 billion, the largest health care fraud settlement in the history of the Department of Justice, to resolve criminal and civil liability for alleged illegal promotion of certain pharmaceutical products and other stepped up oversight and enforcement activities make it critical that all health industry organizations strengthen their internal controls, compliance and audit activities as well as be prepared to defend their actions against the rising tide of federal and state oversight and enforcement.

The pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc. and its subsidiary Pharmacia & Upjohn Company Inc. have agreed to pay $2.3 billion, the largest health care fraud settlement in the history of the Department of Justice, to resolve criminal and civil liability arising from the alleged illegal promotion of certain pharmaceutical products, the Justice Department (DOJ) announced today (September 2, 2009).

According to DOJ, Pharmacia & Upjohn Company agreed to plead guilty to a felony violation of the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act for misbranding Bextra with the intent to defraud or mislead.  Bextra is an anti-inflammatory drug that Pfizer pulled from the market in 2005. 

The Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act requires that a company specify the intended uses of a product in its new drug application to FDA.  Once approved, the drug may not be marketed or promoted for so-called “off-label” uses – i.e., any use not specified in an application and approved by FDA.  DOJ charged Pfizer promoted the sale of Bextra for several uses and dosages that the FDA specifically declined to approve due to safety concerns.  Under the announced settlement, Pfizer will pay a criminal fine of $1.195 billion, the largest criminal fine ever imposed in the United States for any matter.  Pharmacia & Upjohn will also forfeit $105 million, for a total criminal resolution of $1.3 billion.

In addition, Pfizer agreed to pay $1 billion to resolve allegations under the civil False Claims Act that the company illegally promoted four drugs – Bextra; Geodon, an anti-psychotic drug; Zyvox, an antibiotic; and Lyrica, an anti-epileptic drug – and caused false claims to be submitted to government health care programs for uses that were not medically accepted indications and therefore not covered by those programs.  The civil settlement also resolves allegations that Pfizer paid kickbacks to health care providers to induce them to prescribe these, as well as other, drugs.  The federal share of the civil settlement is $668,514,830 and the state Medicaid share of the civil settlement is $331,485,170.  This is the largest civil fraud settlement in history against a pharmaceutical company.

As part of the settlement, Pfizer also has agreed to enter into an expansive corporate integrity agreement with the Office of Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services.  That agreement provides for procedures and reviews to be put in place to avoid and promptly detect conduct similar to that which gave rise to this matter.

Whistleblower lawsuits filed under the qui tam provisions of the False Claims Act that are pending in the District of Massachusetts, the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and the Eastern District of Kentucky triggered this investigation.  As a part of today’s resolution, six whistleblowers will receive payments totaling more than $102 million from the federal share of the civil recovery.

Today’s announcement of this historic settlement emphasizes the continuing and growing government commitment to, coordination and sophistication in the investigation and prosecution of health care crimes by pharmaceutical industry and other health care providers.  The Obama Administration has made investigation and prosecution of health care fraud laws a key element of its strategy to manage U.S. health care program costs. Recently enacted changes in the False Claims Act and other laws are making it easier for federal prosecutors to successfully prosecute these and other health care fraud cases.

The enhanced coordination among agencies central to this strategy is reflected in the collaboration among the many agencies involved in the investigation leading to these charges. The U.S. Attorney’s offices for the District of Massachusetts, the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, and the Eastern District of Kentucky, and the Civil Division of the Department of Justice handled these cases.  The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts led the criminal investigation of Bextra.  The investigation was conducted by the Office of Inspector General for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the FBI, the Defense Criminal Investigative Service (DCIS), the Office of Criminal Investigations for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Veterans’ Administration’s (VA) Office of Criminal Investigations, the Office of the Inspector General for the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), the Office of the Inspector General for the United States Postal Service (USPS), the National Association of Medicaid Fraud Control Units and the offices of various state Attorneys General.

These and other stepped up oversight and enforcement activities make it critical that all health industry organizations strengthen their internal controls, compliance and audit activities as well as be prepared to defend their actions against the rising tide of federal and state oversight and enforcement.

Register Now For Upcoming September Health Industry Update Programs

If you found this information of interest, you also may be interested in one of the following upcoming health industry programs to be presented by Ms. Stamer during September:

  • HITECH ACT Health Data Security & Breach Update on September 9, 2009 hosted live or via teleconference by Curran Tomko Tarski LLP 
  • How to Ensure That Your Organization Is In Compliance With Regulations Governing Discrimination — What You Should Be Doing To Be Prepared for the New, Stepped Up Enforcement Actions on September 10, 2009 hosted via teleconference by Health Resources Publishing
  • Health Information Security & Data Breach Under HITECH Act on September 17, 2009 hosted via teleconference by the Health Care Compliance Association

To register or for other details about these and other upcoming programs and presentations by Ms. Stamer and other Curran Tomko Tarski members, see here.

Other Recent Developments

If you found this information of interest, you also may be interested in reviewing some of the following recent Curran Tomko Tarski LLP Latest in Health Care Updates available online by clicking on the article title:

For More Information

We hope that this information is useful to you.  If you need assistance with auditing or defending health care fraud concerns or other health care compliance, risk management, transaction or operation concerns, please contact the author of this update, Curran Tomko Tarski LLP Health Practice Group Chair, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, at (214) 270‑2402, cstamer@cttlegal.com, Edwin J. Tomko at (214) 270-1405 or another Curran Tomko Tarski LLP Partner of your choice. Ms. Stamer has extensive experience advising clients and writes and speaks extensively on these and other health industry and other internal controls and risk management matters. 

You can review other recent health care and internal controls resources and additional information about the health industry and other experience of Ms. Stamer here.  If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail – by creating or updating your profile at here or e-mailing this information to cstamer@cttlegal.com.

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail – by creating or updating your profile at here or e-mailing this information here.  To unsubscribe, e-mail here.

©2009 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.  All rights reserved.


8 Miami-Area Residents Charged, Assets Frozen in $22 Million Home Health Medicare Fraud Scheme

June 29, 2009

Eight Miami-Dade County, Florida residents have been indicted in connection with an alleged $22 million Medicare fraud scheme operated out of Miami businesses purporting to specialize in home health care services and the assets of those charged and their companies frozen as part of a joint Department of Justice (DOJ) and Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) Medicare Fraud Strike Force operation.

DOJ and HHS officials jointly announced the Florida indictments and injunction action on June 26, 2009, just two days after their June 24, 2009 joint announcement of that a Detroit Medicare Fraud Strike Force had secured indictments against 53 people for schemes to submit more than $50 million in false Medicare claims.

Both the Florida and Detroit actions arose from health care fraud conducted by Medicare Fraud Strike Force teams acting as part of a recently formalized and expanded Health Care Fraud Prevention & Enforcement Action Team (HEAT) jointly announced by the DOJ and HHS on May 20, 2009.  The Florida and Detroit actions announced last week reflect the growing commitment of federal officials to investigate and prosecute Medicare and other alleged heath care fraud.

8 Florida Indictments

The Florida indictments announced June 26, 2009 charge Gladys Zambrana, Javier Zambrana, Enrique Perez, Alejandro Hernandez Quiros aka Alex Hernandez, Vanessa Estrada, Vicenta Tellechea, Modesto Hidalgo and Carlos Castaneda conspiracy to commit health care fraud.  Gladys Zambrana was also charged with four counts of health care fraud.  Gladys Zambrana and Hernandez Quiros were charged with three counts each of paying health care kickbacks, while Perez, Hidalgo and Tellechea were charged with one count each of paying health care kickbacks.  Gladys Zambrana, Perez, Alejandro Quiros, Tellechea and Castaneda were also charged with conspiracy to launder health care fraud proceeds.

According to the indictment, Gladys Zambrana, Perez and Hernandez Quiros operated ABC Home Health Care Inc. (ABC), listing Javier Zambrana as the owner; and Gladys Zambrana and Castaneda operated Florida Home Health Care Providers Inc. (Florida Home Health), listing Tellechea as the owner.  Both ABC and Florida Home Health purported to be home health agencies that catered to Medicare beneficiaries.  The indictment alleges that at both agencies, beneficiaries were recruited and paid kickbacks and bribes to arrange for their Medicare beneficiary numbers to be used by their co-conspirators to file claims with Medicare for purported home health care services.  The indictment alleges that the services were not provided and were not medically necessary.

The indictment alleges that in addition to exerting ownership and control of the home health agencies, Hernandez Quiros and Castaneda acted as Medicare beneficiary recruiters for ABC and Florida Home Health, respectively; and Hidalgo, a medical assistant, falsified medical tests and records to make it appear that the services were needed.  The indictment alleges that ABC billed more than $17 million to the Medicare program for services provided from January 2006 through December 2008 that were medically unnecessary and were not actually provided.  During that time frame, Medicare paid more than $11 million on those fraudulent claims submitted by ABC.  The indictment also alleges that from October 2007 through March 2009, Florida Home Health billed more than $5 million to the Medicare program for services that were medically unnecessary and not actually provided.  During that time frame, Medicare paid more than $4 million on those fraudulent claims submitted by Florida Home Health.

The charge of conspiracy to commit health care fraud carries a maximum prison sentence of 10 years.  Each charged count of health care fraud carries a maximum prison sentence of 10 years and each count of paying health care kickbacks carries a maximum prison sentence of five years.  Conspiracy to launder health care fraud proceeds carries a maximum prison sentence of 10 years per count.

In conjunction with the criminal case, on June 24, 2009, the U.S. Attorney’s Office filed a civil complaint for injunctive relief under the fraud injunction statute and obtained a temporary restraining order freezing the assets of ABC, Florida Home Health, Gladys Zambrana, Javier Zambrana, Perez, Hernandez Quiros, Castaneda and Tellechea.  In addition, that temporary restraining order also freezes certain financial assets of four other companies the defendants owned or controlled and allegedly used to launder money fraudulently obtained from Medicare.  The temporary restraining order is intended to preserve the remaining proceeds of the fraud for recovery by the United States as part of the criminal case and any related civil proceedings.

53 Indicted In Detroit June 24

The announcement of the Florida indictment comes just 2 days after DOJ, HHS and FBI officials announced that a Detroit Medicare Fraud Strike Force had secured indictments against 53 people for their involvement in alleged schemes to submit false Medicare claims.  The indictments unsealed June 24, 2009 returned by a grand jury in Detroit resulted in arrests in Miami, New York City and Detroit resulted from a concentrated effort by the Detroit Medicare Fraud Strike Force targeting infusion therapy and physical/occupational therapy providers involved in schemes orchestrated to defraud the Medicare program.

Collectively, the Detroit indictment accuses the physicians, medical assistants, patients, company owners and executives charged in the indictments of conspiring to submit more than $50 million in false claims to the Medicare program.  According to the indictments, the defendants participated in schemes to submit claims to Medicare for treatments that were in fact medically unnecessary and oftentimes, never provided.  In many cases, indictments also allege that beneficiaries accepted cash kickbacks in return for allowing providers to submit forms saying they had received the unnecessary and not provided treatments. 

Federal Officials Turning On The HEAT on Health Care Fraud

 

The Florida and Detroit indictments reflect the growing commitment and cooperation among federal and state officials to investigation and prosecution of health care fraud using Medicare Fraud Task Forces operating as part of HEAT.  Drawing upon successful experiences gained from Medicare Fraud Task Forces operating in Miami and Los Angeles since 2007, HEAT is an expanded multi-agency effort jointly announced by HHS and DOJ in May, 2009 that uses a multi-agency team of federal, state and local investigators to investigate and combat Medicare fraud through the use of Medicare data analysis techniques and an increased focus on community policing. Since strike force operations began in March 2007, DOJ officials report that the Medicare Fraud Task Forces already have resulted in the indictment of 257 defendants in 115 cases for their allegedly fraudulently billing Medicare for more than $600 million.

Before the May 20, 2009 HEAT announcement, Medicare Fraud Strike Forces operating demonstration projects in South Florida and Los Angeles already had produced a number of indictments. The Medicare Fraud Strike Force team operating in South Florida has already convicted 146 defendants and secured $186 million in criminal fines and civil recoveries.  After the success of operations in South Florida, the Medicare Fraud Strike Force expanded in May 2008 to phase two in Los Angeles, where 37 defendants have been charged with criminal health care fraud offenses.  To date in the Los Angeles cases, more than $55 million has been ordered in restitution to the Medicare program.  DOJ and HHS officials have indicated that the success of these demonstration projects lies behind the founding of the HEAT initiative.

The heightened emphasis on enforcement of federal health care fraud laws reflected in the HEAT program the enactment of recent amendments to the False Claims Act, 31 U.S.C. § 3729 (FCA)  under the “Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act of 2009”(FERA).  The FERA amendments increase the likelihood both that whistleblowers will turn in health care providers and other individuals and organizations that file false claims in violation of the FCA and the liability that violators may incur for that misconduct.

The FERA amendments and the HEAT Team and Strike Force activities are part of a broader emphasis in the enforcement of federal health care fraud laws by both the Administration and Congress.  President Obama’s proposed Fiscal Year 2010 budget seeks to further increase funding for fraud prevention and enforcement by investing $311 million — a 50 percent increase from 2009 funding — to strengthen program integrity activities within the Medicare and Medicaid programs.  The Obama Administration anticipates that all combined, the anti-fraud efforts in the President’s budget could save $2.7 billion over five years by improving oversight and stopping fraud in the Medicare and Medicaid programs, including the Medicare Advantage and Medicare prescription drug programs.  Many state agencies also are stepping up their health care fraud investigations and enforcement.

In light of this new emphasis upon health care fraud detection and enforcement, health care providers now more than ever need to prepare to demonstrate the appropriateness and defensibility of their health care billing and other compliance efforts.

Curran Tomko and Tarski LLP Health Care Practice Chair Cynthia Marcotte Stamer has extensive experience advising and assisting health care practitioners and other businesses and business leaders to establish, administer, investigate and defend health care fraud and other compliance and internal control policies and practices to reduce risk under federal and state health care and other laws. 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 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, CTT Health Care Practice Group Chair, at cstamer@cttlegal.com, 214.270.2402 or your other favorite Curran Tomko Tarski LLP attorney. 

Other Helpful Resources & Other Information

We hope that this information is useful to you.  If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail- by creating or updating your profile at here. You can access other recent updates and other informative publications and resources provided by Curran Tomko Tarski LLP attorneys and get information about its attorneys’ experience, briefings, speeches and other credentials here.

For important information concerning this communication click here.  If you do not wish to receive these updates in the future, send an e-mail with the word “Remove” in the Subject to support@SolutionsLawyer.net.

©2009 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.  All rights reserved. 


53 Doctors, Health Care Executives & Beneficiaries Indicted For Involvement In A $50 Million Alleged False Billing Ring

June 24, 2009

Fifty-three people have been indicted for schemes to submit more than $50 million in false Medicare claims in the continuing operation of the Medicare Fraud Strike Force in Detroit, Attorney General Eric Holder, Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, and FBI Director Robert Mueller announced today (June 24, 2009).

The charges were unsealed today against the 53 individuals who are accused of various Medicare fraud offenses, including conspiracy to defraud the Medicare program, criminal false claims and violations of the anti-kickback statutes.  The indictments returned by a grand jury in Detroit resulted in arrests in Miami, New York City and Detroit. 

According to the DOJ, federal agents from the FBI and the HHS Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG) began executing arrest warrants and made arrests in Detroit, Miami and New York City earlier today as part of a concentrated effort targeting infusion therapy and physical/occupational therapy providers involved in schemes orchestrated to defraud the Medicare program.

Collectively, the indictment accuses the physicians, medical assistants, patients, company owners and executives charged in the indictments of conspiring to submit more than $50 million in false claims to the Medicare program.  According to the indictments, the defendants participated in schemes to submit claims to Medicare for treatments that were in fact medically unnecessary and oftentimes, never provided.  In many cases, indictments also allege that beneficiaries accepted cash kickbacks in return for allowing providers to submit forms saying they had received the unnecessary and not provided treatments.  An indictment is merely an allegation, and defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.

The investigation and enforcement action that lead to today’s indictment was conducted as part of the continuing activities of the new interagency Health Care Fraud Prevention and Enforcement Action Team (HEAT) that DOJ and HHS jointly announced last month.  On May 20, 2009, DOJ and HHS jointly announced they were combining forces to find and prosecute health care fraud through the HEAT and identified Detroit and Houston as cities targeted for Medicare Fraud Strike Force attention.

Before the May 20, 2009 HEAT announcement, Medicare Fraud Strike Forces operating demonstration projects in South Florida and Los Angeles already had produced a number of indictments. The Medicare Fraud Strike Force team operating in South Florida has already convicted 146 defendants and secured $186 million in criminal fines and civil recoveries.  After the success of operations in South Florida, the Medicare Fraud Strike Force expanded in May 2008 to phase two in Los Angeles, where 37 defendants have been charged with criminal health care fraud offenses.  To date in the Los Angeles cases, more than $55 million has been ordered in restitution to the Medicare program.  The success of these demonstration projects lies behind the founding of the HEAT initiative.

The heightened emphasis on enforcement of federal health care fraud laws reflected in the HEAT program the enactment of recent amendments to the False Claims Act, 31 U.S.C. § 3729 (FCA)  under the “Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act of 2009”(FERA).  The FERA amendments increase the likelihood both that whistleblowers will turn in health care providers and other individuals and organizations that file false claims in violation of the FCA and the liability that violators may incur for that misconduct.

The FERA amendments and the HEAT Team and Strike Force activities are part of a broader emphasis in the enforcement of federal health care fraud laws by both the Administration and Congress.  President Obama’s proposed Fiscal Year 2010 budget seeks to further increase funding for fraud prevention and enforcement by investing $311 million — a 50 percent increase from 2009 funding — to strengthen program integrity activities within the Medicare and Medicaid programs.  The Obama Administration anticipates that all combined, the anti-fraud efforts in the President’s budget could save $2.7 billion over five years by improving oversight and stopping fraud in the Medicare and Medicaid programs, including the Medicare Advantage and Medicare prescription drug programs.  Many state agencies also are stepping up their health care fraud investigations and enforcement.

In light of this new emphasis upon health care fraud detection and enforcement, health care providers now more than ever need to prepare to demonstrate the appropriateness and defensibility of their health care billing and other compliance efforts.

Curran Tomko and Tarski LLP Health Care Practice Chair Cynthia Marcotte Stamer has extensive experience advising and assisting health care practitioners and other businesses and business leaders to establish, administer, investigate and defend health care fraud and other compliance and internal control policies and practices to reduce risk under federal and state health care and other laws. 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 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, CTT Health Care Practice Group Chair, at cstamer@cttlegal.com, 214.270.2402 or your other favorite Curran Tomko Tarski LLP attorney. 

Other Helpful Resources & Other Information

We hope that this information is useful to you.  If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail- by creating or updating your profile at here. You can access other recent updates and other informative publications and resources provided by Curran Tomko Tarski LLP attorneys and get information about its attorneys’ experience, briefings, speeches and other credentials here.

For important information concerning this communication click here.  If you do not wish to receive these updates in the future, send an e-mail with the word “Remove” in the Subject to support@SolutionsLawyer.net.

©2009 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.  All rights reserved. 


Newly Enacted FERA Amendments To False Claims Act Signal New Risks For Health Industry Organizations & Others

May 26, 2009

Health care providers and other parties covered by the False Claims Act, 31 U.S.C. § 3729 (FCA), now face expanded whistleblower and other liability under amendments to the FCA enacted under the “Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act of 2009”(FERA).  The amendments increase the likelihood both that whistleblowers will turn in health care providers and other individuals and organizations that file false claims in violation of the FCA and the liability that violators may incur for that misconduct.

Signed into law by President Obama last Wednesday (May 20, 2009), FERA immediately upon enactment:

  • Amends the whistleblower protections afforded to employees, contractors and agents who suffer retaliation for taking lawful efforts to stop violations of the FCA and to make it easier for those individuals to pursue retaliation claims;
  • Expands liability under for making false or fraudulent claims to the federal government under the FCA;
  • Applies liability under the FCA for presenting a false or fraudulent claim for payment or approval (currently limited to such a claim presented to an officer or employee of the federal government); and
  • Requires persons who violate such Act to reimburse the federal government for the costs of a civil action to recover penalties or damages 

Concurrent with President Obama’s signature of FERA into law, the U.S. Departments of Justice (DOJ) and Health & Human Services (HHS) jointly announced the expansion of federal health care fraud enforcement efforts.  On May 20, 2009, HHS and DOJ announced their activation of a new interagency team to combat health care fraud highlights the increasing need for health care providers and health plans to review and tighten their practices for dealing with Medicare and other federal programs to survive scrutiny under federal health care fraud initiatives.  Coupled with FERA and the already significant increase in federal health care fraud detection and enforcement activities in recent years and a proposed 50 percent increase in funding for these activities included in President Obama’s Fiscal Year 2010 budget, health care providers and payers must be prepared to defend their dealing with Medicare, Medicaid and other federal health care programs.

The expanded protections afforded under FERA to whistleblowers and others suffering retaliation for opposing or reporting illegal actions can be expected to serve as a key tool in these efforts. These new retaliation safeguards are designed further increase the likelihood that employees and other insiders will help government officials ferret out false claims and other fraud. Specifically with regard to retaliatory action claims Section 4(d) of FERA amends 31 U.S.C.§ 3730(h) to provide for the recovery of “all relief necessary to make that employee, contractor, or agent whole” where that individual is discharged, demoted, suspended, threatened, harassed, or in any other manner discriminated against in the terms and conditions of employment because of lawful acts he does or takes on behalf of an individual in furtherance of other efforts to stop a violation of the FCA. 

FERA expressly provides that relief to victims of retaliation will include “reinstatement with the same seniority status that employee, contractor, or agent would have had but for the discrimination, 2 times the amount of back pay, interest on the back pay, and compensation for any special damages sustained as a result of the discrimination, including litigation costs and reasonable attorneys’ fees.” 

The FERA amendments to the FCA, the new TEAMS enforcement effort announced simultaneously with its signature into law mean that health care industry organizations and others covered by the FCA must implement appropriate fraud prevention, detection, redress and other procedures to help defend against possible FCA or other health care fraud claims and investigations.

The attorneys at Curran Tomko Tarski, LLC have extensive experience representing and advising health industry and other clients against FCA and other federal health care and fraud laws. 

For More Information

We hope that this information is useful to you. If you need assistance with auditing or defending health care fraud concerns or other health care compliance, risk management, transactions or operations concerns, please contact Curran Tomko Tarski LLP Partners Cynthia Marcotte Stamer at (214) 270-2402, CStamer@CTTLegal.com; Michael T. Tarski at (214) 270-1420 or MTarski@CTTLegal.com; Edwin J. Tomko at (214) 270-1405 or ETomko@CTTLegal.com.

You can review other recent health care and internal controls resources and additional information about the health industry and white collar experience of the Curran Tomko Tarski LLP attorneys at http://www.CTTLegal.com. If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail – by creating or updating your profile at CTTLegal.com or e-mailing this information to CStamer@CTTLegal.com.


DOJ/HHS Step Up Health Care Fraud Enforcement By Announcing New Interagency Health Care Fraud Prevention and Enforcement Action Team

May 20, 2009

Lead DOJ Health Care Fraud Enforcer Speaks In Dallas Tomorrow

The joint announcement today (May 20, 2009) by the U.S. Departments of Justice (DOJ) and Health & Human Services (HHS) of a new interagency team to combat health care fraud highlights the increasing need for health care providers and health plans to review and tighten their practices for dealing with Medicare and other federal programs to survive scrutiny under federal health care fraud initiatives.   Houston and Detroit are targeted for the attention of a new Strike Force.

Participants attending tomorrow’s Dallas Health Industry Council Southwest Healthcare Transaction Conference will get to hear the latest about these and other federal health care fraud prevention and enforcement activities from one of its key players. The Justice Department’s lead federal health care fraud prosecutor, John “Jay” S. Darden, the U.S. Department of Justice Assistant Chief for Healthcare Fraud is scheduled to provide an update on these and other federal regulatory and enforcement activities affecting health care transactions when he speaks at the Conference tomorrow afternoon at the Omni Mandalay Hotel Dallas at Las Colinas at 1:30 p.m.

Attorney General Eric Holder and Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced the creation of the Health Care Fraud Prevention and Enforcement Action Team (HEAT), to combat Medicare fraud and the expansion of Strike Force team operations to Detroit and Houston.  Medicare Fraud Strike Forces, currently in operation in South Florida and Los Angeles, fight Medicare fraud on a targeted local level.  Statements made by Secretary Sebelius and Attorney General Holder in connection with the announcement of HEAT and the Strike Force Expansion make clear that the Obama Administration views health care fraud enforcement and prevention as a key element of its efforts to control health care costs.

The HEAT team will include senior officials from DOJ and HHS who will build upon and strengthen existing programs to combat fraud while also investing new resources and technology to prevent fraud, waste and abuse before it happens.  Efforts will include the expansion of joint DOJ-HHS Medicare Fraud Strike Force teams that have been successfully fighting fraud in South Florida and Los Angeles. 

Established in 2007, these Strike Force teams have a proven record of success using a “data-driven” approach to identify unexplainable billing patterns and investigating these providers for possible fraudulent activity.  The Medicare Fraud Strike Force team operating in South Florida has already convicted 146 defendants and secured $186 million in criminal fines and civil recoveries.  After the success of operations in South Florida, the Medicare Fraud Strike Force expanded in May 2008 to phase two in Los Angeles, where 37 defendants have been charged with criminal health care fraud offenses.  To date in the Los Angeles cases, more than $55 million has been ordered in restitution to the Medicare program. 

In addition to health care fraud enforcement and prosecution, HHS and DOJ also view prevention as critical to reforming the system.  Therefore, in addition to investigating and prosecuting fraud, the HEAT team will also focus critical resources on preventing fraud from occurring in the first place.  These efforts are expected to include:

  • Drawing from demonstration projects by the HHS Inspector General and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) that have focused on suppliers of durable medical equipment (DME) including increasing site visits to potential suppliers to prevent imposters from posing as legitimate DME providers. 
  • Increasing training for providers on Medicare compliance, offering providers the resources and the knowledge they need to help identify and prevent fraud.
  • Improving data sharing between CMS and law enforcement to help identify patterns that lead to fraud.
  • Strengthening program integrity activities to monitor and ensure Medicare Parts C (Medicare Advantage plans) and D (prescription drug programs) compliance and enforcement.

The Attorney General and the HHS Secretary also called on the American people to visit a new Web site http://www.hhs.gov/stopmedicarefraud or call 1-800-HHS-TIPS (1-800-447-8477) to report suspected Medicare fraud.

The HEAT Team and Strike Force activities are part of a broader emphasis in the enforcement of federal health care fraud laws.  President Obama’s proposed Fiscal Year 2010 budget seeks to further increase funding for fraud prevention and enforcement by investing $311 million — a 50 percent increase from 2009 funding — to strengthen program integrity activities within the Medicare and Medicaid programs.  The Obama Administration anticipates that all combined, the anti-fraud efforts in the President’s budget could save $2.7 billion over five years by improving oversight and stopping fraud in the Medicare and Medicaid programs, including the Medicare Advantage and Medicare prescription drug programs.

For More Information

We hope that this information is useful to you. If you need assistance responding to concerns about the matters discussed in this publication or other health care concerns, wish to obtain information about arranging for training or presentations by Ms. Stamer, wish to suggest a topic for a future program or update, or wish to request other information or materials, please contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at (214) 270-2402 or via e-mail to cstamer@CTTLegal.com.

You can review other recent updates and other publications by Ms. Stamer and other helpful health care resources and additional information about Ms. Stamer and her experience, see Stamer Health Industry Experience. If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail- by creating or updating your profile at here or by registering to participate in the Solutions Law Press Health Care Update blog at Health Care Update Blog. For important information concerning this communication click here.    If you do not wish to receive these updates in the future, send an e-mail with the word “Remove” in the Subject to support@SolutionsLawyer.net.


Connecticut Man Pleads Guilty To Multi-Million Dollar Tax Fraud Conspiracy Involving False Charges For Hospital Maintenance & Insulation Services

April 4, 2009

A Connecticut resident faces  five years in prison, three years of supervised release and a $250,000 fine after pleading guilty this week to conspiracy to aid another in filing false tax returns between approximately 2000 and February 2005 through a fraudulent check cashing scheme for the owner of a corporation that was engaged in the business of providing maintenance and insulation services to New York Presbyterian Hospital (NYPH).  The action reflects the risks to individuals and businesses that illegally claim tax deductions, bill for services or violate other federal criminal laws.

Krzysztof Koczon plead guilty in U.S. District Court in Manhattan to charges he provided false documentation to co-conspirators indicating that he had performed construction services and received more than $2.3 million in checks from the co-conspirators as payment for the construction services, the Department of Justice announced Thursday, April 2, 2009.   Koczon cashed the checks but returned the bulk of the money to the co-conspirators in exchange for a fee. The co-conspirators then took false deductions for those payments made to Koczon’s businesses.

The tax fraud conspiracy that Koczon is charged with carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison, three years of supervised release and a $250,000 fine. The maximum fine may be increased to twice the gain derived from the crime or twice the loss suffered by the victims of the crime, if either of those amounts is greater than the statutory maximum fine.

In April 2007, as part of the same investigation, Michael Theodorobeakos and two maintenance and insulation companies he co-owned–Monosis Inc. and STU Associates Inc. pleaded guilty to conspiring to rig bids on the supply of maintenance and insulation services to NYPH and Mount Sinai Medical Center (Mount Sinai). In addition, Michael Vignola and Mister AC Ltd. pleaded guilty in November 2007 to conspiring to rig bids on heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) services provided to NYPH and paying kickbacks to former NYPH purchasing officials. In April 2008, Aaron S. Weiner pleaded guilty to participating in a conspiracy wherein Weiner acted as a conduit in another million-dollar kickback scheme also involving one of the same former NYPH purchasing officials involved with the Vignola kickback schemes. On March 25, 2009, Mariusz Debowski pleaded guilty to participating in the same tax fraud conspiracy at NYPH.

These charges arose from an ongoing federal antitrust investigation of fraud, bribery, tax-related offenses and bidding irregularities relating to contracts administered by the Facilities Operations Department and the Engineering Department at NYPH and the Engineering Department at Mount Sinai conducted by the Antitrust Division’s New York Field Office, the FBI and the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation’s New York Field Office.

Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, Ed Tomko and other members of Curren Tomko and Tarski LLP are experienced with assisting health industry and other clients establish and administer internal and external fraud and other controls, investigate potential fraud or other misconduct, defend Federal or state criminal or civil investigations, audits and prosecutions.  If your organization needs assistance with assessing or managing its compliance responsibilities or liabilities under health care, employment, environmental, antitrust, securities or other federal or state laws, wishes to inquire about compliance audit or training or other services; or would like to review or engage and experience of Ms. Stamer, Mr. Tomko or other Curren Tomko Tarski LLP attorneys, please contact Ms. Stamer at cstamer@cttlegal.com, (214) 270-2402;  or Mr. Tomko at etomko@cttlegal.com, (214) 270-1405, or see CTTLegal.com or CynthiaStamer.com.

 


%d bloggers like this: