WASHINGTON – A Los Angeles physician assistant who stole the identities of doctors to write medically unnecessary prescriptions for expensive durable medical equipment (DME) and diagnostic tests was sentenced today to serve 72 months in prison in connection with a $18.9 million Medicare fraud scheme, announced the Department of Justice, FBI and U.S. Department Health and Human Services (HHS).
David James Garrison, 50, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Consuelo B. Marshall in the Central District of California. In addition to his prison term, Garrison was sentenced to three years of supervised release and ordered to pay $24,935 in restitution, jointly and severally with convicted co-defendants.
In June 2012, after a two-week trial, a federal jury found Garrison guilty of one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud, six counts of health care fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft. The trial evidence showed that Garrison worked at fraudulent medical clinics that operated as prescriptions mills and trafficked in fraudulent prescriptions and orders for medically unnecessary DME and diagnostic tests that were used by fraudulent DME supply companies and medical testing facilities to defraud Medicare. Garrison wrote the prescriptions and ordered the tests on behalf of doctors whom he never met and who did not authorize him to write prescriptions and order tests on their behalf.
The trial evidence showed that between March 2007 and September 2008, Garrison’s co-conspirator Edward Aslanyan and others owned and operated several Los Angeles medical clinics established for the sole purpose of defrauding Medicare. Aslanyan and others hired street-level patient recruiters to find Medicare beneficiaries willing to provide the recruiters with their Medicare billing information in exchange for expensive, high-end power wheelchairs and other DME, which the patient recruiters told the beneficiaries they would receive for free. Often, the solicited Medicare beneficiaries did not have a legitimate medical need for the power wheelchairs and equipment. The patient recruiters then provided the beneficiaries’ Medicare billing information to Aslanyan and others or brought the beneficiaries to the fraudulent medical clinics. In exchange for recruiting the Medicare beneficiaries, Aslanyan and others paid the recruiters a cash kickback for every beneficiary they recruited.
The evidence presented at trial showed that Garrison wrote prescriptions for power wheelchairs, which the beneficiaries did not need and did not use. In some cases, Garrison wrote power wheelchair prescriptions for beneficiaries he never examined and who never visited the clinics. Once Garrison wrote the power wheelchair prescriptions, Aslanyan and others sold them from $1,000 to $1,500 to the owners and operators of approximately 50 different fraudulent DME supply companies, which used the prescriptions to submit fraudulent power wheelchair claims to Medicare. The DME supply companies purchased the power wheelchairs wholesale for approximately $900 per wheelchair but billed the wheelchairs to Medicare at a rate of approximately $5,000 per wheelchair. Aslanyan also used the prescriptions Garrison wrote at two fraudulent DME supply companies that Aslanyan owned and operated.
In addition, the trial evidence showed that Garrison ordered the same medically unnecessary diagnostic tests for every Medicare beneficiary, including tests for sleep studies, ultrasounds and nerve conduction. These tests were then billed to Medicare by fraudulent diagnostic testing companies that paid Aslanyan kickbacks to operate from the medical clinics.
The trial evidence showed that Garrison admitted to writing prescriptions for power wheelchairs and ordered diagnostic tests on behalf of approximately six different doctors, many of whom never met Garrison and never had a delegation of services agreement with him, as required by law. The trial evidence also showed that Garrison was paid up to $10,000 a week in cash for his work at the clinics.
As a result of this fraud scheme, Garrison and his co-conspirators submitted over $18.9 million in false claims to Medicare and received $10.7 million on those claims.
Currently, Garrison is facing federal drug charges as a result of his alleged involvement with another medical clinic where medically unnecessary prescriptions for Oxycontin were distributed. Garrison is scheduled for trial on the federal drug charges on Nov. 6, 2012. He is presumed innocent of the charges against him.
Aslanyan pleaded guilty for his role in the scheme in April 2011 and was sentenced on Feb. 6, 2012, to 77 months in prison. Carolyn Vasquez, another co-conspirator, pleaded guilty for her role in the scheme in March 2011 and was sentenced on Jan. 9, 2012, to 60 months in prison.
Today’s sentence was announced by Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Criminal Division; U.S. Attorney André Birotte Jr. for the Central District of California; Tony Sidley, Assistant Chief of the California Department of Justice, Bureau of Medi-Cal Fraud and Elder Abuse; Glenn R. Ferry, Special Agent-in-Charge for the Los Angeles Region of the HHS Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG); and Timothy Delaney, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office.
The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Jonathan T. Baum of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney David Kirman of the Central District of California. The case is being investigated by the FBI and was brought as part of the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, supervised by the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California.
Since its inception in March 2007, strike force operations in nine locations have charged more than 1,330 defendants who collectively have billed the Medicare program for more than $4 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, go to: www.stopmedicarefraud.gov.