WASHINGTON – An owner of a Houston health care company pleaded guilty today to committing health care fraud and making false statements relating to health care matters, announced the Departments of Justice and Health and Human Services (HHS).
Ekpedeme Obot, 34, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Court Judge Lee Rosenthal in Houston to one count of making false statements relating to health care matters and one count of health care fraud.
According to court documents, Obot was an owner and operator of Praise DME. Praise maintained a Medicare provider number in order to submit Medicare claims for the costs of durable medical equipment (DME) and purported to provide orthotics and other DME to Medicare beneficiaries. According to court documents, Praise submitted claims to Medicare for DME, including orthotic devices that were medically unnecessary and/or not provided. Many of the orthotic devices were components of an “arthritis kit,” and were purported to be for the treatment of arthritis-related conditions; in fact, however, they were not medically necessary or appropriate for such conditions. The arthritis kit generally contained a number of orthotic devices including braces for both sides of the body and related accessories such as heat pads. From March 2007 through August 2008, Obot submitted claims of more than $1.3 million to Medicare and was paid approximately $945,637.
In addition, according to the plea agreement, Obot admitted that he made false statements to Medicare in his supplemental Medicare Enrollment Application when he failed to provide information about a prior felony conviction. Specifically, the Medicare Enrollment Application included a section entitled “Adverse Legal Actions/Convictions,” which required DME providers to list prior felony convictions. Obot was convicted on March 5, 2007, in Harris County, Texas, on a felony theft charge, but in his application, he represented only that he had been subject to a recoupment action by Texas Medicaid in November 2006 that was resolved by entering into a payment plan.
At sentencing, Obot faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison on the health care fraud charge and five years in prison on the false statements charge. Sentencing is scheduled for Oct. 12, 2011, at 9:00 a.m., CDT before Judge Rosenthal.
Today’s guilty plea was announced by Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division; U.S. Attorney José Angel Moreno of the Southern District of Texas; Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott; Joseph J. Del Favero, Special Agent -in-Charge of the Chicago Field Office of the Railroad Retirement Board Office of Inspector General; Acting Special Agent-in-Charge Russell D. Robinson of the FBI’s Houston Field Office; and Special Agent-in-Charge Mike Fields of the Dallas Regional Office of HHS Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG), Office of Investigations.
This case is being prosecuted by Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Justin Blan and Trial Attorney Laura M.K. Cordova of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section. 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, Medicare Fraud Strike Force operations in nine districts have obtained indictments of more than 1,000 individuals who collectively have falsely billed the Medicare program for more than $2.3 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 .