Mecklenburg County Social Worker Pleads Guilty in Connection with Medicaid Fraud Scheme
CHARLOTTE, NC—A social worker with the Mecklenburg County Department of Social Services (DSS) appeared in federal court today and pleaded guilty to federal charges for her role in a healthcare fraud scheme involving the stolen identities of clients enrolled with the Medicaid program, announced Anne M. Tompkins, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina. Ieshia Hicks Watkins, 33, of Charlotte, pleaded guilty before U.S. Magistrate Judge David S. Cayer to one count of health care fraud conspiracy and one count of receiving illegal kickbacks.
U.S. Attorney Tompkins is joined in making today’s announcement by John A. Strong, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Charlotte.
According to filed court documents and today’s plea hearing, October 2010 to February 2012, while employed at DSS, Watkins stole the names and identities of DSS clients, most of whom were minors. As a social worker, Watkins had access to the information contained in the client files on her caseload and the caseload of others within DSS. Court records indicate that Watkins sold the stolen information to her conspirator, Ronnie Lorenzo Robinson, who then used it to file fraudulent reimbursement claims with Medicaid for sham mental and behavioral health services that were never provided to those Medicaid recipients.
Watkins admitted in court today that she sold the misappropriated information in exchange for cash and gifts. According to information contained in court filings, Watkins received at least $10,000 as payment for selling DSS client names and identifying information to Robinson. Robinson then submitted nearly $30,000 in false and fraudulent claims to Medicaid using the stolen information.
“Driven by greed, Watkins used her position to access the personal information of DSS clients and sold it to her conspirator in exchange for cash and gifts. This case is particularly troubling because these were families and minor children whose welfare Watkins was assigned to protect. Instead, she turned them into victims of identity theft for her own benefit. Since Watkins’ conscience wasn’t enough to stop her from committing this crime, my office will make sure she’s held accountable for it,” said U.S. Attorney Tompkins.
“Ieshia Watkins utilized her trusted position as a social worker to victimize some of the most vulnerable families in North Carolina. Instead of putting the best interests of those parents dependent on Medicaid for their children’s care, Ms. Watkins allowed personal greed to override the commitment she made to those families. Health care fraud wastes taxpayer’s money and increases costs for everyone,” said John Strong, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI in North Carolina.
At sentencing, Watkins faces a maximum term of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for the health care fraud conspiracy charge. She also faces a maximum of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine for receiving illegal kickbacks. In her plea agreement, Watkins has agreed to pay full restitution to Medicaid for any losses resulting from her criminal scheme. The final restitution amount will be determined by the court at Watkins’ sentencing hearing, which has not been scheduled yet. Watkins remains free on bond pending sentencing.
Robinson pleaded guilty in January 2014 to two counts of health care fraud and is currently awaiting sentencing.
The investigation into Watkins was handled by the FBI with assistance from the North Carolina Medicaid Investigations Division. The prosecution was handled by Assistant U.S. Attorney Kelli Ferry of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Charlotte.
The investigation and charges are the work of the Western District’s joint Health Care Fraud Task Force. The Task Force is multi-agency team of experienced federal and state investigators, working in conjunction with criminal and civil Assistant United States Attorneys, dedicated to identifying and prosecuting those who defraud the health care system, and reducing the potential for health care fraud in the future. The Task Force focuses on the coordination of cases, information sharing, identification of trends in health care fraud throughout the region, staffing of all whistle blower complaints, and the creation of investigative teams so that individual agencies may focus their unique areas of expertise on investigations. The Task Force builds upon existing partnerships between the agencies and its work reflects a heightened effort to reduce fraud and recover taxpayer dollars.
If you suspect Medicare fraud please report it by phone at 1-800-447-8477 (1-800- HHS-TIPS), or E-Mail at HHSTips@oig.hhs.gov. To report Medicaid fraud in North Carolina, call the North Carolina Medicaid Investigations Division at 919-881-2320.