Houston-area residents Basil Kalu and Ju-Ying Qian, and Louisiana resident Darnell Willis pleaded guilty today in connection with their roles in a durable medical equipment Medicare fraud scheme, the Departments of Justice and Health and Human Services (HHS) announced.
Qian, Willis and Kalu pleaded guilty today before U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Atlas of the Southern District of Texas to one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud. According to court documents, Qian, 60, and Willis, 50, were patient recruiters for Onward Medical Supply, a Houston-area durable medical equipment company. Kalu, 41, assisted with Onward activities and also ran his own durable medical equipment company, BOK, through Onward.
Onward began billing Medicare for fraudulent durable medical equipment in 2003, according to court documents. Qian and Willis admitted that they accepted kickbacks at predetermined rates per patient for recruiting patients for Onward. Qian and Willis admitted that they knew Onward would then bill Medicare for durable medical equipment that these patients did not need or never received.
Kalu is the brother of Doris Vinitski, Onward’s owner who pleaded guilty in this case last week. Kalu admitted that as an employee of Onward, he willfully participated in the fraud scheme. He also admitted that he opened his own fraudulent durable medical equipment business and ran it for a time through Onward using Onward recruiters, including Willis.
Kalu and Willis are scheduled to be sentenced on Aug. 19, 2010. Qian is scheduled to be sentenced on Aug. 20, 2010. Each of the three defendants faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Three people have already pleaded guilty in connection with the Onward scheme. Doris Vinitski, the owner of Onward and Kalu’s sister, as well as John Lachman, who operated the day-to-day business for several years and is Vinitski’s estranged husband, and patient recruiter Vicki Phillips have all pleaded guilty for their roles in the scheme. Four additional defendants allegedly involved in the scheme – Dr. Howard Grant, Clinton Lee, Michael Kalu Obasi and Obisike Nwankwo - are scheduled for trial on May 17, 2010. The charges against these defendants are merely allegations and they are presumed innocent until proven guilty.
The guilty pleas were announced by Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Criminal Division; U.S. Attorney José Angel Moreno of the Southern District of Texas; Richard C. Powers, Special Agent-in-Charge of the FBI’s Houston office; Special Agent-in-Charge Mike Fields of the Dallas Regional Office of the HHS Office of Inspector General (OIG), Office of Investigations; and Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott on behalf of the Texas Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit (MFCU).
The cases were prosecuted by Assistant Chief John S. (Jay) Darden and Trial Attorneys Jennifer L. Saulino and O. Benton Curtis III of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section. The cases were investigated by the FBI, HHS-OIG and MFCU.
The case was brought as part of the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, supervised by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas and the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section. Since their inception in March 2007, Strike Force operations in seven districts have obtained indictments of more than 560 individuals who collectively have falsely billed the Medicare program for more than $1.2 billion. In addition, HHS’s 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.