Twenty defendants, most of them residing in the Los Angeles area, have been charged in seven cases for allegedly participating in Medicare fraud schemes that resulted in more than $26 million in fraudulent bills to the Medicare program.
Federal and state agents arrested seven of the defendants this morning, and seven others were taken into custody last week, as the result of an investigation by the Medicare Fraud Strike Force that targeted fraudulent durable medical equipment (DME) providers. The seven defendants arrested today are scheduled to make their initial appearances in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles beginning this afternoon.
"Today’s indictments and arrests are important achievements in our ongoing fight against Medicare fraud, but there is more that we can, and will, do," said Assistant Attorney General of the Criminal Division Lanny A. Breuer. "Our Medicare Fraud Strike Force will continue to be vigilant in rooting out criminals who masquerade as health care providers in order to steal from American taxpayers. Every dollar stolen from the Medicare program is one dollar too many."
"The Strike Force has been an effective tool to address a long-standing problem in my district," said Acting U.S. Attorney George S. Cardona. "The nearly two dozen people charged in recent weeks are linked to more than $26 million in fraudulent billings. That money is better spent paying for the medical needs of legitimate patients."
"Our Strike Forces are working. The continued cooperation among our agencies has once again resulted in more indictments and arrests of those suspected of defrauding the Medicare Trust Fund," said Daniel R. Levinson, HHS Inspector General. "Today’s operations demonstrate the effectiveness of using advanced technologies to detect fraud schemes and to support our joint enforcement efforts."
The seven cases announced today involve DME company owners and marketers who are accused of engaging in a variety of schemes that defrauded the Medicare program through fraudulent bills which total approximately $26 million. The charging documents outline criminal schemes involving the fraudulent ordering of power wheelchairs, orthotics (devices designed to assist with orthopedic problems) and hospital beds. In addition to the arrests, federal agents today executed search warrants at four locations in Los Angeles County.
Michael Martinez, 30, of Long Beach, Calif., and six other defendants were charged with conspiracy to commit health care fraud and for making false statements to the government. Martinez allegedly recruited relatives and individuals linked to the Santa Ana-based Brook Street Gang to act as straw owners for four fraudulent DME companies. The six other defendants – Angel Michel, 36, of San Diego; Guadalupe Alcaraz, 30, of Corona, Calif.; Theresa Padilla, 23, of Moreno Valley, Calif.; Pedro Franco, 28, of Torrance, Calif.; Ricardo Navarro, 49, of Corona; and Martin Padilla, 42, of Moreno Valley – allegedly each received approximately $5,000 from a Martinez associate to act as the nominal owners of the fraudulent DME companies. In this way, they could deceive Medicare by concealing the true identities of those who actually owned the companies. The indictment alleges that as part of the conspiracy, the fraudulent DME companies – Mercy Medical Supplies Inc.; Chatsworth Medical Equipment Inc.; All Your Needs Healthcare Products Inc.; and Global Meridian Management Inc. – submitted approximately $11.2 million in fraudulent Medicare claims for medically unnecessary power wheelchairs and orthotic devices. If convicted on all counts in the indictment, Martinez faces a maximum statutory penalty of 75 years in federal prison, and the other six defendants each face maximum sentences of 15 years in prison.
The owners of four DME companies and two of their employees were arrested on October 15 after being indicted for allegedly submitting more than $12 million in false claims to Medicare for power wheelchairs, orthotics and other medical equipment that the conspirators either did not supply, supplied to beneficiaries who did not need the equipment, or allegedly supplied to deceased beneficiaries. Christopher Iruke, 57, of Los Angeles, the owner of Pascon Medical Supply, and employee Darawn Vasquez, 25, of Inglewood, Calif., are alleged to have acquired fraudulent prescriptions and documents from individuals who recruited Medicare beneficiaries or were associated with fraudulent medical clinics. Iruke, Vasquez and Iruke’s wife, Connie Ikpoh, 47, also of Los Angeles; as well as Jummal Joy Ibrahim, 54, of Las Vegas; and Asia Fowler, 38, of Pacoima, Calif.; who were the alleged owners of Horizon Medical Equipment and Supply Inc., Contempo Medical Equipment Inc., and Ladera Medical Equipment Inc., are alleged to have used the fraudulent prescriptions and documents Iruke and Vasquez acquired to submit approximately $12.1 million in false claims to Medicare. The indictment charges a sixth defendant, Aura Marroquin, 28, of Los Angeles, with participating in the scheme. If convicted on the charges alleged in the indictment, the six defendants face maximum possible sentences ranging from 50 years to 180 years in federal prison. A trial in this case has been scheduled for November 24.
Maria Nela Moreno, 56, of Parlier, Calif., was indicted along with a codefendant for allegedly conspiring to submit approximately $828,835 in fraudulent claims to Medicare for medically unnecessary power wheelchairs through a DME company in Canoga Park, Calif. These defendants also are charged with six counts of submitting false claims to the Medicare program. Moreno was arrested this morning in Fresno, Calif., and faces a maximum possible sentence of 70 years in prison if convicted on all charged counts.
Anait Garanfilyan, 47, of Los Angeles, was arrested on October 15 after being indicted on multiple counts related to the payment of illegal kickbacks for Medicare patient referrals to two medical clinics in Los Angeles between February 2005 and May 2006. If convicted on all charged counts, Garanfilyan faces a maximum possible sentence of 10 years in prison. Garanfilyan is scheduled to be arraigned on Monday.
Mariya Bagdasaryan, 54, and Edgar Srapyan, 26, both of Glendale, Calif., were indicted on charges of conspiring to commit health care fraud from October 2007 to December 2008. Bagdasaryan operated a fraudulent DME company called Goldberg Medical Supply and allegedly submitted approximately $779,028 in false claims to Medicare for medically unnecessary power wheelchairs and wheelchair accessories. Bagdasaryan also is charged with paying illegal kickbacks for the referral of Medicare patients to Goldberg Medical Supply. Srapyan, though a fraudulent DME company, True Care Medical Supply, is alleged to have submitted approximately $647,356 in false claims to Medicare for unnecessary power wheelchairs and wheelchair accessories. If convicted on all charged counts, Bagdasaryan faces a maximum sentence of 90 years in prison. Srapyan faces a maximum sentence of 50 years if convicted on all counts.
Adejare Ademefun, 55, of Inglewood, was indicted for allegedly conspiring with others to submit more than $850,000 in false claims to Medicare for medically unnecessary power wheelchairs. Ademefun is charged with one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud and five counts of health care fraud. If convicted on all charged counts, Ademefun faces a maximum possible sentence of 60 years in prison.
Sylvester Ijewere, 49, of Arleta, Calif., was named in a criminal complaint charging him with one count of health care fraud. Ijewere is associated with a DME company called Maydads that allegedly was used to submit nearly $500,000 in false claims to Medicare. Ijeware was arrested this morning. If convicted, Ijewere faces a maximum possible sentence of 10 years in federal prison.
An indictment merely contains allegations that a defendant or defendants have committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty at trial.
The cases are being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Christopher Lui, April A. Christine, Kerry O’Neill and Steven Arkow of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California, and Trial Attorney Jonathan Baum of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section. The cases were investigated by the FBI; the Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG); and the California Department of Justice, Bureau of Medical Fraud and Elder Abuse.
The case was brought as part of the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, supervised by Deputy Chief Kirk Ogrosky of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and Acting U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California George S. Cardona. Assistant U.S. Attorney Vince Farhat is the Strike Force coordinator in Los Angeles. Since inception in March 2007, Strike Force operations in four districts have resulted in indictments of 331 individuals who collectively have falsely billed the Medicare program for more than $720 million. In addition, HHS’ Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, working in conjunction with the HHS-OIG, are taking steps to increase accountability and decrease the presence of fraudulent providers.
To learn more about the Health Care Fraud Prevention and Enforcement Action Team (HEAT), go to www.stopmedicarefraud.gov
Anyone with information that could assist the ongoing Strike Force investigation is encouraged to contact investigators with the Department of Health and Human Services by calling 1-800-HHS-TIPS, or emailing HHSTips@oig.hhs.gov.