Leader of Medicare Fraud Scheme That Submitted More Than $7 Million in Bogus Bills for Unnecessary Equipment Convicted in Federal Court
LOS ANGELES—A Hawthorne woman who was responsible for more than $7 million in fraudulent Medicare billing for durable medical equipment—mostly power wheelchairs—was found guilty today of 16 federal charges stemming from the health care fraud scheme.
Adeline Ekwebelem, 51, was found guilty following a seven-day trial before United States District Judge Michael W. Fitzgerald.
Ekwebelem was convicted of conspiracy to commit health care fraud, 12 counts of health care fraud and three counts of paying illegal kickbacks for health care referrals. As a result of the 16 guilty verdicts, Ekwebelem will face a statutory maximum sentence of 145 years when she is sentenced by Judge Fitzgerald on December 15.
Ekwebelem becomes the fifth person convicted in relation to the scheme run out of her Gardena-based durable medical equipment (DME) supply company, Adelco Medical Distributors, Inc.
The evidence presented during the federal court trial showed that Adelco billed Medicare for medically unnecessary DME, primarily power wheelchairs, for beneficiaries who were often recruited off the street. Ekwebelem paid illegal kickbacks to individuals known as marketers to recruit those beneficiaries. Ekwebelem also paid kickbacks to a handful of complicit doctors in exchange for fraudulent prescriptions for DME. Those doctors included Dr. Charles Okoye, who pleaded guilty last month (see: http://www.justice.gov/usao/cac/Pressroom/2014/110.html), and Dr. Uche Chukwudi, who fled after being indicted and is currently a fugitive.
Three of Adelco’s marketers—Romie Tucker, Cindy Santana and Maritza Hernandez—have also pleaded guilty to receiving kickbacks from Ekwebelem.
As a part of this scheme, Ekwebelem submitted more than $7 million in fraudulent claims to Medicare and received nearly $3.5 million for those claims.
The investigation into Ekwebelem and the others involved with Adelco’s scheme to defraud Medicare was conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services—Office of the Inspector General and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.