Organizer of $9 Million Health Care Scam Set for Arraignment Today
LOS ANGELES—A Placentia woman already serving a prison sentence for defrauding Medi-Cal is expected to be arraigned this afternoon on new federal charges related to her operation of a hospice that submitted millions of dollars in fraudulent bills to Medicare and Medi-Cal for purportedly providing end-of-life care to patients who were, in fact, not dying.
Priscilla Villabroza, 68, has been transferred from a federal prison in Victorville and is expected to be arraigned on a 25-count indictment this afternoon in United States District Court in Los Angeles.
Villabroza is one of six defendants charged in relation to the scheme allegedly run out of the Covina-based California Hospice Care, which Villabroza purchased in late 2007 while under investigation in the earlier case that later sent her to prison for 4½ years.
Between March 2009 and June 2013, California Hospice submitted nearly $9 million in fraudulent bills to Medicare and Medi-Cal for hospice-related services, and the public health programs paid nearly $7.5 million.
According to the indictment, the fraud at California Hospice involved Villabroza and her daughter paying patient recruiters known as “marketers” or “cappers” to bring in Medicare and Medi-Cal beneficiaries. As part of the scheme, registered nurses at the facility performed “assessments” to determine whether the beneficiary was terminally ill and, regardless of the outcome, two doctors at the hospice certified that the beneficiary was terminally ill—even though the vast majority of them were not dying. Personnel at California Hospice allegedly altered medical records in response to Medicare audits to make the beneficiaries appear sicker. In the end, Medicare and Medi-Cal paid millions of dollars for medically unnecessary hospice-related services.
On December 17, the other five defendants were taken into custody and were arraigned on the indictment. They are:
- Villabroza’s daughter, Sharon Patrow, 43, of Placentia, who appeared to own California Hospice and who operated the facility with her mother;
- Dr. Sri Wijegoonaratna, 60, of Anaheim Hills, a physician who worked at the hospice and allegedly recruited patients;
- Dr. Boyoa Huang, 41, of Pasadena, another doctor at California Hospice;
- Nancy Briones, 74, of Mira Loma, a registered nurse who also allegedly recruited patients to be “treated” at California Hospice; and
- Roseilyn Montana, 52, of San Bernardino, who recruited patients.
All five of the defendants arraigned last week pleaded not guilty, were released on bond and were ordered to stand trial before United States District Judge S. James Otero on February 10.
An indictment contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.
All six defendants are charged in 13 counts of health care fraud, an offense that carries a statutory maximum sentence of 10 years in prison for each count.
Villabroza and Patrow are each charged with 12 counts of money laundering, each one of which carries a potential sentence of 20 years in prison.
Villabroza is currently in federal prison serving a 54-month term after being convicted of running a health care fraud scheme involving unlicensed nurses (see: http://www.justice.gov/usao).
The investigation into California Hospice was conducted by the United States Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the California Bureau of Medi-Cal Fraud & Elder Abuse, and IRS—Criminal Investigation.