A Southern California physician, a durable medical equipment (DME) supply company employee and a health care professional were found guilty late yesterday by a federal jury in Los Angeles for their roles in a $1.5 million Medicare fraud scheme, announced Acting Assistant Attorney General Mythili Raman of the Criminal Division; U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California André Birotte Jr.; Bill L. Lewis, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office; and Glenn R. Ferry, Special Agent in Charge of the Los Angeles Region of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG).
Godwin Onyeabor, 49, of Ontario, Calif., Sri J. Wijegunaratne, 58, of Anaheim, Calif., and Heidi Morishita, 48, of Valencia, Calif., were each found guilty in U.S. District Court in the Central District of California of one count of conspiracy to pay and receive kickbacks. Wijegunaratne was also found guilty of conspiracy to commit health care fraud and six substantive counts of health care fraud. Onyeabor was also found guilty of conspiracy to commit health care fraud and 11 substantive counts of health care fraud.
The trial evidence showed that between January 2007 and February 2012, Onyeabor, an officer at Fendih Medical Supply Inc., a DME supply company located in San Bernadino, Calif., and others paid cash kickbacks to Wijegunaratne, a physician, and Morishita for fraudulent prescriptions for DME, including power wheelchairs. The evidence showed that Wijegunaratne wrote prescriptions for power wheelchairs and other DME that Medicare beneficiaries did not need and sometimes never used. After receiving prescriptions from Wijegunaratne and Morishita, Onyeabor and others used the prescriptions to fraudulently bill Medicare for the medically unnecessary DME.
At trial, several Medicare beneficiaries testified that they were lured to medical clinics with the promise of free items such as vitamins and juice, only to receive power wheelchairs that they did not need and did not want. The beneficiaries further testified that their attempts to reject delivery of the power wheelchairs from Onyeabor’s supply company were unsuccessful.
As a result of this fraud scheme, Onyeabor, Wijegunaratne and others submitted and caused the submission of approximately $1.5 million in false and fraudulent claims to Medicare, and received almost $1 million on those claims.
At sentencing, scheduled for Sept. 9, 2013, Onyeabor, Wijegunaratne and Morishita face a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each count.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant Chief Benton Curtis and Trial Attorneys Fred Medick and Alexander Porter of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section. The case was investigated by the FBI and the Los Angeles Region of HHS-OIG.
The case 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. 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 its inception in March 2007, the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, now operating in nine cities across the country, has charged more than 1,480 defendants who have collectively billed the Medicare program for more than $4.8 billion. In addition, HHS’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, working in conjunction with 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.