Three Doctors Convicted of Medicare Fraud
|U.S. Attorney’s Office July 08, 2011|
SACRAMENTO, CA—United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced that today Dr. Alexander Popov, 46, of Los Angeles; Dr. Ramanathan Prakash, 63, of Northridge; and Dr. Lana Le Chabrier, 62, of Santa Barbara, were convicted of conspiring to commit health care fraud. In addition, Popov and Prakash were convicted on three individual counts of health care fraud, and Dr. Le Chabrier was convicted of a single additional count of health care fraud. The guilty verdicts were returned by a federal jury in Sacramento after a month-long trial before United States District Judge Morrison C. England, Jr.
U.S. Attorney Wagner stated, “Medicare rip-offs are all too common. The jury verdicts today, however, demonstrate that juries take these schemes as seriously as the Department of Justice does, and that those who defraud Medicare can expect to become felons. Combating health care fraud and protecting Medicare dollars are among the highest priorities of this office.”
According to testimony presented at trial, from February 2006 through August 2008, Vardges Egiazarian, 63, of Panorama City, owned and controlled three health care clinics located in Sacramento, Richmond, and Carmichael. Egiazarian and others recruited doctors to submit applications to Medicare for billing numbers. These doctors would assume the role of owners and practitioners at the clinics, and claims would be submitted to Medicare under their names for medical services purportedly rendered at the clinics. Popov and Prakash fulfilled this role for the Sacramento Clinic and Le Chabrier did the same for the Richmond Clinic.
In fact, these doctors never treated patients at their respective clinics. Clinic patients, almost all of whom were elderly and non-English speaking, were recruited and transported to the clinics by individuals who were paid according to the number of patients they brought to the facilities. Rather than being charged a co-payment, the patients were paid for their time and the use of their Medicare eligibility, generally in the amount of $100 per visit. Patient charts were created falsely stating that each patient received comprehensive exams and a broad array of diagnostic tests. In fact, few of these tests were ever performed, none were performed based on any medical need, and clinic employees filled out other portions of the charts using preprinted templates. Some clinic employees admitted to performing various tests on themselves, and placing the results in patient files.
Patient files were then transported to Southern California, where Popov, Prakash, and Le Chabrier would sign them indicating they provided or approved the treatments therein. These files were then used to support billing submitted to Medicare for treatments and services that were unnecessary, never performed, or both. In all, the three clinics submitted more than $5 million worth of fraudulent claims to Medicare, $1.7 million of which was actually paid. In return for their roles, Popov, Prakash, and Le Chabrier each received 20 percent of the billings paid under their respective provider numbers.
Others who have previously pleaded guilty in this matter include:
- Vardges Egiazarian, currently serving 78 months in prison.
- Derrick Johnson, a doctor involved with the Richmond clinic, who is currently awaiting sentencing on August 25, 2011.
- Nazaret Salmanyan, an unlicensed ultrasound technician who worked in the clinics and is awaiting sentencing on July 28, 2011.
- Zoya Belov, a nurse licensed in Russia but not the United States, who is awaiting sentencing on August 4, 2011.
- Shushanik Martirosyan, who billed Medicare as part of the scheme, who is awaiting sentencing on July 28, 2011.
- Migran Petrosyan, one of the businessmen, who is awaiting sentencing on July 28, 2011.
- Liw Jiaw Saechao, aka Jenny Saechao, who recruited patients for the clinics and is awaiting sentencing on August 4, 2011.
Two other physicians involved with the clinics, Sol Teitelbaum and Emilio Cruz, have been indicted for their roles. Their whereabouts are unknown. The charges in the superseding indictment as to these individuals are only allegations and each is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
This case is the product of an extensive investigation by the Office of the Inspector General for the Department of Health and Human Services and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Assistant United States Attorneys Philip Ferrari and Jean Hobler prosecuted the case.
Popov, Prakash, and Le Chabrier were remanded into custody after the verdicts and are scheduled to be sentenced by Judge England on September 29, 2011, at 9:00 a.m. They face a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison for each count. The actual sentence, however, will be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration of any applicable statutory factors and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which take into account a number of variables.