WASHINGTON – Thirty-two people have been indicted for schemes to submit more than $16 million in false Medicare claims in the continuing operation of the Medicare Fraud Strike Force in Houston, Deputy Attorney General David W. Ogden and Deputy Secretary Bill Corr of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced today. The Strike Force in Houston is the fourth phase of a targeted criminal, civil and administrative effort against individuals and health care companies that fraudulently bill the Medicare program.
While the indictments were returned by a grand jury in Houston, individuals were arrested today in Houston, New York, Boston and Louisiana. In addition, Strike Force agents executed 12 search warrants at health care businesses and homes across the Houston area.
The joint DOJ-HHS Medicare Fraud Strike Force is a multi-agency team of federal, state and local investigators designed to combat Medicare fraud through the use of Medicare data analysis techniques and an increased focus on community policing. The fourth phase was announced in May 2009, with agents from FBI, HHS Office of the Inspector General (HHS-OIG), the Texas Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit (MFCU), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Office of Personnel Management, Office of the Inspector General (OPM-OIG) and the Office of the Inspector General at the Railroad Retirement Board (RRB-OIG).
"Our Medicare Strike Force is striking back against health care fraud in all its forms and wherever it occurs. We will stop fraud as its happening, using real-time data analysis of Medicare billing records," said Deputy Attorney General David W. Ogden. "Those who commit health care fraud will not be allowed to steal money from American taxpayers. Anyone operating or considering operating a health care fraud scheme around the country should take notice that they will be held accountable."
"When criminals rip off Medicare beneficiaries, we all pay the price. These false Medicare schemes and scams are costing the taxpayers millions of dollars, harming Medicare beneficiaries and driving up the cost of health care, but thanks to this new innovative partnership and the hard work of our staff on the ground, we are starting to fight back against fraud in a big way. The Administration’s HEAT initiative and our Strike Forces are making a big difference in a very short amount of time, returning millions back to the Medicare Trust in just a few months," said Bill Corr, Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Services and the top HHS official on the HEAT Team. "We are also working together across the federal government on important new innovations in the way we do business on the front end, to try and prevent crime like this from happening in the first place."
The Strike Force operations in Houston are another important step of the Health Care Fraud Prevention & Enforcement Action Team (HEAT), a joint initiative announced in May 2009 between the Department of Justice and HHS to focus their joint efforts to reduce and prevent Medicare and Medicaid fraud through enhanced cooperation. The HEAT taskforce, co-chaired by Deputy Attorney Ogden and Deputy Secretary Corr, is made up of top-level law enforcement agents, prosecutors and staff from both Departments and their operating divisions. In the May 2009 announcement, Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced the expansion of the Strike Force into Detroit and Houston to build upon existing partnerships between the agencies in a heightened effort to reduce fraud and recover taxpayer dollars.
Charges were unsealed today against 32 individuals who are accused of various Medicare fraud offenses, including conspiracy to defraud the Medicare program, and criminal false claims. The Strike Force operations in Houston have identified the primary fraud schemes as those related to false billing for "arthritis kits," power wheelchairs and enteral feeding supplies.
According to the indictments, the defendants charged today participated in schemes to submit claims to Medicare for products that were in fact medically unnecessary and oftentimes, never provided. In some cases, indictments allege that beneficiaries were deceased at the time they allegedly received the items. Collectively, the physicians, company owners and executives charged in the indictments are accused of conspiring to submit more than $16 million in false claims to the Medicare program.
"Americans deserve quality healthcare and have the right to expect that money expended on Medicare is not wasted," said U.S. Attorney Tim Johnson. "We will prosecute anyone who fraudulently obtains Medicare benefits at the expense of the truly needy."
"We will protect the Medicare program and its beneficiaries by stopping those who falsely bill for power wheelchairs, orthotic devices and other supplies that are not needed," said Daniel R. Levinson, Inspector General of the Department of Health & Human Services. "Today’s arrests demonstrate the significant impact of the new HEAT strike force on combating fraud and abuse in the Houston area."
"We will continue to work together to combat those who corrupt the system and wish to line their pockets with taxpayer dollars," said Special Agent in Charge Richard C. Powers, FBI Houston Field Office. "Healthcare fraud strikes at the heart of our health care system and our economy."
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott added: "Today’s arrests reflect a concerted effort to crack down on those who defraud Texas taxpayers. We will continue working with our federal partners to uncover waste, fraud, and abuse in the Medicare and Medicaid systems."
Since the inception of Strike Force operations in March 2007 with phase one in South Florida, phase two in Los Angeles in May 2008, and phase three in Detroit in March 2009, the Strike Force has obtained indictments of more than 293 individuals and organizations that collectively have billed the Medicare program for more than $674 million. In addition, HHS’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, working in conjunction with the HHS-OIG, is taking steps to increase accountability and decrease the presence of fraudulent providers.
Each of the three Houston Strike Force teams is led by a federal prosecutor from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Houston or the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section. Each team has an agent from the FBI, HHS-OIG and the Texas Attorney General’s MFCU. DEA, OPM-OIG and RRB-OIG also have agents on the teams.
The cases are being prosecuted by attorneys from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, including Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Lowery and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Justin Blan, on detail from HHS-OIG, as well as from the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section, including Assistant Chief John S. (Jay) Darden and Trial Attorneys Charles Reed, Katherine Houston, Anthony Burba and John Cunningham.
An indictment is merely an allegation, and defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.
To learn more about the HEAT team, go to: www.hhs.gov/stopmedicarefraud