Federal Medicare Fraud Strike Force Charges Chicago-Area Defendants with Defrauding Medicare and Other Health Insurers
|U.S. Attorney’s Office May 14, 2013|
CHICAGO—Two area physicians and three health clinic co-owners are among seven defendants charged here with engaging in five separate, unrelated health care fraud schemes to defraud the Medicare program and/or private health insurers of millions of dollars, federal law enforcement officials announced today.
Four of the five cases here are part of a nationwide takedown by Medicare Fraud Strike Force operations in eight cities, announced today by the Departments of Justice and Health and Human Services, resulting in charges against 89 defendants, including doctors, nurses, and other licensed medical professionals, for their alleged participation in Medicare fraud schemes collectively involving approximately $233 million in false billing.
In Chicago, the defendants were charged in two criminal complaints and two informations filed today and yesterday, and an indictment that was unsealed today following the arrest of one defendant in Miami. All seven defendants were charged with health care fraud for allegedly defrauding the Medicare program, or violating the anti-kickback statute, which makes it illegal to offer, pay, solicit, or receive payments in exchange for referrals of Medicare patients. The charges involve various medical treatments and services, as well as durable medical equipment.
“Today’s announcement marks the latest step forward in our comprehensive efforts to combat fraud and abuse in our health-care systems,” said Attorney General Eric Holder. “These significant actions build on the remarkable progress that the HEAT has enabled us to make—alongside key federal, state, and local partners—in identifying and shutting down fraud schemes. They are helping to deter would-be criminals from engaging in fraudulent activities in the first place. And they underscore our ongoing commitment to protecting the American people from all forms of health-care fraud, safeguarding taxpayer resources, and ensuring the integrity of essential health care programs,” he added.
“Today’s charges are part of our continuing efforts not only to deprive dishonest healthcare providers of their illegal profits but to demonstrate to the broader medical services community that health care fraud will be found out and prosecuted with all of our resources. In short, we will not tolerate medical professionals and providers who abuse our healthcare system,” said Gary S. Shapiro, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois.
Details of the Chicago cases follow:
United States v. Ankur Roy, Akash Patel, and Dipen Desai
Ankur Roy, Akash Patel, and Dipen Desai, who owned and operated Selectcare Health Inc., which provided outpatient physical and respiratory therapy in Park Ridge and Skokie, were charged with submitting more than $4 million in false billings to Medicare between March and July 2011. Each defendant was charged with six counts of health care fraud in an indictment that was returned by a federal grand jury last Wednesday and unsealed today.
Roy, 36, of Miami was arrested today in south Florida, while Patel, 33, of Morton Grove, and Desai, 33, of Chicago, will be ordered to appear for arraignment on a later date in U.S. District Court in Chicago.
According to the indictment, the defendants submitted false claims to Medicare and Blue Cross Blue Shield on behalf of Selectcare patients for respiratory therapy services that were never provided. The alleged false billings sought reimbursement for services purportedly provided on days that Selectcare’s sole respiratory therapist was not working; for time periods in which the patients were not receiving care from Selectcare; and for treatment seven days a week for three hours per day, a schedule well in excess of any schedule prescribed for patients at Selectcare.
Roy, Patel, and Desai used a third-party billing service to forward the alleged false claims to Medicare, as well as to private insurers such as Blue Cross if the patient had supplemental private insurance, including insurance funded by labor union health and welfare plans.
Between March and July 2011, the defendants allegedly submitted $4,009,094 in false billings for services that were purportedly provided between April 2010 and April 2011, resulting in payments totaling approximately $2,214,424 from Medicare and $320,881 from Blue Cross Blue Shield. The indictment seeks forfeiture of $2,535,305 in alleged fraud proceeds, including $446,974 in funds withdrawn by cashiers’ checks that were seized by the FBI in July 2012.
The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Maureen Merin. The case was investigated by the FBI, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG), and the U.S. Department of Labor Office of Inspector General (DOL-OIG).
United States v. Cecilia Ibrahim
Dr. Cecilia Ibrahim, an internal medicine physician who operated Sunrise Medical Center in Flossmoor, was charged with one count of health care fraud for allegedly engaging in a $1.7 million Medicare and private insurance false billing scheme.
Ibrahim, 50, of Frankfort, was charged in an information filed today in U.S. District Court. She will be arraigned on a date to be determined.
Between March 2006 and August 2009, Ibrahim allegedly submitted more than 3,200 false claims to Medicare and Blue Cross Blue Shield using a billing code for spinal decompression neuroplasty, a surgical procedure that she did not perform, when she only performed intervertebral differential dynamics therapy (IDD), a non-surgical procedure. As a result, she allegedly caused a loss of at least $300,000 to Medicare and $550,000 to Blue Cross Blue Shield. The indictment seeks forfeiture of at least $882,500 in alleged fraud proceeds.
The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Samuel B. Cole. The case was investigated by the FBI, HHS-OIG, and the Railroad Retirement Board Office of Inspector General.
United States v. Ellyse Lamon
Elysse Lamon, an account executive at a company that sold durable medical equipment, including back braces and transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation units, also known as tens units, was charged with one count of health care fraud for allegedly engaging in a $350,000 Medicare false billing scheme.
Lamon, 30, of Elmhurst, was charged in an information filed today in U.S. District Court. She will be arraigned on a date to be determined.
Between October 2010 and May 2011, Lamon allegedly caused her company to submit false claims to Medicare representing that a physician had prescribed back braces and tens units when she knew that no physician had done so and the items were not medically necessary. In order to provide written support for the false claims, Lamon allegedly obtained patient records without a physician’s permission and added false information reflecting that a physician had ordered the equipment for the patients. She allegedly forged doctors’ signatures on documents, including false treatment records she created. Lamon further used patient information she had inappropriately accessed at a pain medicine center in Chicago to set up patient meetings where she falsely told patients that doctors had prescribed the equipment for them, according to the charges.
Lamon allegedly submitted false claims to Medicare totaling $352,685, resulting in payment of at least $206,233 to her medical equipment company. She allegedly profited from these false claims by receiving increased commissions and other benefits from her company.
The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Kruti Trivedi. The case was investigated by the FBI and is not part of the Medicare Fraud Strike Force operation.
United States v. Nalini Ahluwalia
Dr. Nalini Ahluwalia was charged with one count of violating the anti-kickback law for allegedly receiving $1,000 in exchange for referring two patients to a home health care agency in August 2012.
Ahluwalia, 58, of Burr Ridge, was charged in a complaint filed today in U.S. District Court. She will be ordered to appear on a date to be determined.
According to the complaint, a confidential informant who worked at a home health care company in Chicago, told agents that the confidential informant had previously paid kickbacks to Ahluwalia of $400 to $500 per patient in exchange for her referral of Medicare patients to the home health care company.
On August 23, 2012, at the direction of agents, the confidential informant met with Ahluwalia at the doctor’s office in Chicago and paid her $1,000 for the two Medicare patient referrals in an exchange that was reflected on an audio/video recording, according to the complaint affidavit. In October 2012 and February 2013, the informant allegedly made two additional $500 payments to Ahluwalia in exchange for Medicare patient referrals.
The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Samuel B. Cole. The case was investigated by the FBI and the HHS-OIG.
United States v. Joseph Dickson
Joseph Dickson, the president and owner of JD Medical Consultants Inc., a medical marketing company, was charged with one count of violating the anti-kickback law for allegedly receiving $4,200 in exchange for referring patients to a home health care agency in October 2012.
Dickson, 65, of Lansing, was charged in a complaint filed yesterday in U.S. District Court. He will be ordered to appear on a date to be determined.
According to the complaint, a confidential informant who owned a home health care company in the Chicago area, told agents that the confidential informant had previously paid kickbacks to Dickson, among others, for referring Medicare patients to another home health care company where s/he previously worked. Dickson was described as a “middle man” who arranged the referral of patients from a physician to a home health care company, and the confidential informant told agents that the confidential informant had paid Dickson approximately $15,000 for referring about 30 patients between 2006 and 2008.
On October 3, 2012, at the direction of agents, the confidential informant met with Dickson at his office in Chicago and paid him $4,200 for seven Medicare patient referrals, at $600 each, in an exchange that was reflected on an audio/video recording, according to the complaint affidavit. In December 2012, the informant allegedly made an additional $1,800 payment to Dickson in exchange for Medicare patient referrals and re-certifications.
The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph H. Thompson. The case was investigated by the FBI and the HHS-OIG.
The charges in these cases carry the following maximum penalties on each count: health care fraud—10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, or an alternate fine totaling twice the loss or twice the gain, whichever is greater; and violating the anti-kickback statute—five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. If convicted, the court must impose a reasonable sentence under federal statutes and the advisory United States Sentencing Guidelines.
The Medicare Fraud Strike Force began operating in Chicago in February 2011 and consists of agents from the FBI and HHS-OIG working together with prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Justice Department’s Fraud Section. The strike force is are part of the Health Care Fraud Prevention and Enforcement Action Team (HEAT), a joint initiative announced in May 2009 between the Department of Justice and HHS to focus their efforts to prevent and deter fraud and enforce current anti-fraud laws around the country.
Since their inception in March 2007, strike force operations in nine locations have charged more than 1,500 defendants who collectively have falsely billed the Medicare program for more than $5 billion. In addition, the HHS Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, working in conjunction with the HHS-OIG, are taking steps to increase accountability and decrease the presence of fraudulent providers.
The nationwide takedown was announced today by Attorney General Holder, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and other federal law enforcement officials. Mr. Shapiro announced the Chicago charges with Cory B. Nelson, Special Agent in Charge of the Chicago Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation; Lamont Pugh, III, Special Agent in Charge of the Chicago Regional Office of the HHS-OIG; and James Vanderberg, Special Agent in Charge of the Labor Department Office of Inspector General in Chicago. The Railroad Retirement Board Office of Inspector General assisted in the Ibrahim investigation.
The public is reminded that indictments, informations, and complaints contain only charges and are not evidence of guilt. The defendants are presumed innocent and are entitled to a fair trial at which the government has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
To learn more about the Health Care Fraud Prevention and Enforcement Action Team (HEAT), go to www.stopmedicarefraud.gov.