WASHINGTON – The Medicare Fraud Strike Force today charged 111 defendants in nine cities, including doctors, nurses, health care company owners and executives, and others, for their alleged participation in Medicare fraud schemes involving more than $225 million in false billing, announced Attorney General Eric Holder, Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, FBI Executive Assistant Director Shawn Henry, Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Criminal Division and HHS Inspector General Daniel Levinson. Also today, the Department of Justice (DOJ) and HHS announced the expansion of Medicare Fraud Strike Force operations to two additional cities – Dallas and Chicago. Today’s operation is the largest-ever federal health care fraud takedown.
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. More than 700 law enforcement agents from the FBI, HHS-Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG), multiple Medicaid Fraud Control Units, and other state and local law enforcement agencies participated in today’s operation. In addition to making arrests, agents also executed 16 search warrants across the country in connection with ongoing strike force investigations.
“With this takedown, we have identified and shut down large-scale fraud schemes operating throughout the country. We have safeguarded precious taxpayer dollars. And we have helped to protect our nation’s most essential health care programs, Medicare and Medicaid,” said Attorney General Holder. “As today’s arrests prove, we are waging an aggressive fight against health care fraud.”
“Over the last two years our joint efforts have more than quadrupled the number of anti-fraud Strike Force teams operating in fraud hot spots around the country from two to nine -- with the latest additions Chicago and Dallas -- bringing hundreds of charges against criminals who had billed Medicare for hundreds of millions of dollars. Last year alone, our partnership recovered a record $4 billion on behalf of taxpayers. From 2008-2010, every dollar the Federal Government spent under its Health Care Fraud and Abuse Control programs averaged a return on investment of $6.80,” said HHS Secretary Sebelius.
The defendants charged today are accused of various health care fraud-related crimes, including conspiracy to defraud the Medicare program, criminal false claims, violations of the anti-kickback statutes, money laundering and aggravated identity theft. The charges are based on a variety of alleged fraud schemes involving various medical treatments and services such as home health care, physical and occupational therapy, nerve conduction tests and durable medical equipment.
According to court documents, the defendants charged today participated in schemes to submit claims to Medicare for treatments that were medically unnecessary and oftentimes, never provided. In many cases, indictments and complaints allege that patient recruiters, Medicare beneficiaries and other co-conspirators were paid cash kickbacks in return for supplying beneficiary information to providers, so that the providers could submit fraudulent billing to Medicare for services that were medically unnecessary or never provided. Collectively, the doctors, nurses, health care company owners, executives and others charged in the indictments and complaints are accused of conspiring to submit a total of more than $225 million in fraudulent billing.
“Every American bears the burden of health care fraud, and the FBI, in conjunction with our inter-agency partners, will continue to dismantle criminal networks that bilk the system,” said Shawn Henry, Executive Assistant Director of the FBI’s Criminal, Cyber, Response and Services Branch. “Our agents and analysts use task forces and undercover operations to identify individuals who treat the health care system as a vehicle to line their pockets.”
“Today, Strike Force operations have charged doctors, nurses, health care executives, and others – from Los Angeles to New York and cities in between – with engaging in Medicare fraud schemes that cheat taxpayers and patients alike,” said Assistant Attorney General Breuer. “With this nationwide takedown and the expansion of the Strike Force to two additional cities, our message is clear: we are determined to put Medicare fraudsters out of business.”
“Today, more than 300 special agents from OIG, in partnership with federal and state agencies across the country, are making more than a hundred arrests on charges of health care fraud,” said Daniel R. Levinson, HHS Inspector General. “These unprecedented operations send a clear message – we will not tolerate criminals lining their pockets at the expense of Medicare patients and taxpayers.”
In Miami, 32 defendants, including 2 doctors and 8 nurses, were charged for their participation in various fraud schemes involving a total of $55 million in false billings for home health care, durable medical equipment and prescription drugs. Twenty-one defendants, including three doctors, three physical therapists and one occupational therapist, were charged in Detroit for schemes to defraud Medicare of more than $23 million. The Detroit cases involve false claims for home health care, nerve conduction tests, psychotherapy, physical therapy and podiatry.
In Brooklyn, N.Y., 10 individuals, including three doctors and one physical therapist, were charged with fraud schemes involving $90 million in false billings for physical therapy, proctology services and nerve conduction tests. Ten defendants were charged in Tampa for participating in schemes involving more than $5 million related to false claims for physical therapy, durable medical equipment and pharmaceuticals.
Nine individuals were charged in Houston for schemes involving $8 million in fraudulent Medicare claims for physical therapy, durable medical equipment, home health care and chiropractor services. In Dallas, seven defendants were indicted for conspiring to submit $2.8 million in false billing to Medicare related to durable medical equipment and home health care.
Five defendants were charged in Los Angeles for their roles in schemes to defraud Medicare of more than $28 million. The cases in Los Angeles involve false claims for durable medical equipment and home health care. In Baton Rouge, La., six individuals were charged for a durable medical equipment fraud scheme involving more than $9 million in false claims.
In Chicago, charges were filed against 11 individuals associated with businesses that have billed Medicare more than $6 million for home health, diagnostic testing and prescription drugs.
The Medicare Fraud Strike Force operations are part 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 efforts to prevent and deter fraud and enforce current anti-fraud laws around the country.
Since their inception in March 2007, Strike Force operations in nine districts have charged more than 990 individuals who collectively have falsely billed the Medicare program for more than $2.3 billion. In addition, the 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.
The cases announced today are being prosecuted and investigated by Strike Force teams comprised of attorneys from the Fraud Section in the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and from the U.S. Attorney’s Offices for the Southern District of Florida, the Eastern District of Michigan, the Eastern District of New York, the Middle District of Florida, the Southern District of Texas, the Central District of California, the Middle District of Louisiana; the Northern District of Illinois, and the Northern District of Texas; and agents from the FBI, HHS-OIG, and state Medicaid Fraud Control Units.
An indictment is merely a charge and defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty.
To learn more about the Health Care Fraud Prevention and Enforcement Action Team (HEAT), go to: www.stopmedicarefraud.gov.