Federal Jury Convicts Brunswick Woman in $4 Million Medicaid Fraud Scheme
|U.S. Attorney’s Office November 20, 2013|
BRUNSWICK, GA—Schella Logan Hope, 47, of Brunswick, Georgia, was convicted earlier this month by a federal jury of various health care fraud, aggravated identity theft, and money laundering offenses for her role in a $4 million scheme upon the Georgia Medicaid program. Chief United States District Court Judge Lisa Godbey Wood presided over Hope’s five-day jury trial.
According to evidence presented during the trial, Hope was a licensed dietician who ran a business located in Brunswick, Georgia, known as Hope Nutritional Services. From 2005 through 2011, Hope stole the identities of thousands of needy children between the ages of zero and five that were enrolled in Head Start programs located throughout the state of Georgia. Once Hope obtained the identities of these children, Hope fabricated patient files, falsified prescriptions from doctors, and submitted $4 million worth of claims to Medicaid for nutritional services that were not provided. Hope then used the money she stole from Medicaid to pay for luxury automobiles, designer clothing, and vacations, among other things.
Co-conspirator Arlene Murrell pled guilty before Hope’s trial to her role in the scheme. Murrell testified against Hope at trial and detailed how she helped Hope commit the fraud.
Hope was convicted of 58 counts of conspiracy to commit health care fraud; health care fraud; aggravated identity theft; and money laundering. Upon her convictions for these offenses, Chief Judge Wood remanded Hope to the custody of the United States Marshals pending sentencing in the case.
United States Attorney Edward J. Tarver stated, “Defendant Hope preyed upon American taxpayers by stealing the identities of low-income Georgia families and then billing Medicaid for over $4 million in nutrition services that were never provided. This United States Attorney’s Office will continue its efforts to prosecute all who seek to defraud American taxpayers by scamming federal programs. Because of Ms. Hope’s criminal efforts to feed her extravagant lifestyle, she will have to rely upon the federal prison system for her own nutritional services.”
“The Head Start Program provides many of our nation’s children with invaluable services and opportunities,” said Derrick L. Jackson, Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General, Atlanta Regional Office. “To use the Head Start Program as a vehicle to submit false and fraudulent claims to the Medicaid system is unacceptable, and the OIG will continue to pursue these kinds of egregious cases.“
Mark F. Giuliano, Special Agent in Charge, FBI Atlanta Field Office, stated, “Those who defraud our publicly funded healthcare programs such as Medicaid and Medicare are taking valuable services and resources away from those in need. This guilty verdict reaffirms that the FBI will continue to provide significant investigative resources toward identifying, investigating, and presenting for prosecution such individuals that, by engaging in such criminal conduct, put themselves before others."
Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens said, “Fraud of taxpayer monies will not be tolerated in any form. Head Start is a program intended to offer assistance to children from low income families. The fact that this defendant used the Head Start Program and children in need to assist in her scam is especially appalling.”
“The Georgia Department of Community Health has made it a top priority to ferret out fraud, waste, and abuse in our Medicaid program. Our collaborative work with state and federal agencies enables us to ensure Medicaid program dollars are being used to provide health care services to Georgia’s most vulnerable populations,” said Clyde L. Reese, III, Esq., commissioner of the Georgia Department of Community Health.
At sentencing, Hope faces 10 years in prison for each of the 17 health care fraud offenses; 20 years in prison for the various money laundering offenses; and two years consecutive prison sentences for each of the various aggravated identity theft offenses. Hope also faces up to three years of supervised release and may be ordered to pay restitution to the victims in this case.
The convictions of Hope and Murrell resulted from a joint investigation by the United States Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General; the Federal Bureau of Investigation; Georgia’s Department of Community Health; and the Georgia Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit.
Assistant United States Attorneys Brian T. Rafferty and David Stewart, along with Assistant Attorney General Robin Daitch, prosecuted the case on behalf of the United States. For additional information, please contact First Assistant United States Attorney James D. Durham at (912) 201-2547.