The owner of a Brooklyn medical clinic was sentenced today to serve 15 years in prison for her leading role in a $77 million Medicare fraud scheme.
Acting Assistant Attorney General Mythili Raman of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Loretta E. Lynch, Assistant Director in Charge George Venizelos of the FBI’s New York Field Office, and Special Agent in Charge Thomas O’Donnell of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG) made the announcement.
Irina Shelikhova, 50, of Brooklyn, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Nina Gershon of the Eastern District of New York. In addition to her prison term, Shelikhova was sentenced to serve three years of supervised release with a concurrent exclusion from Medicare, Medicaid and all Federal health programs, ordered to forfeit $36,241,545 and ordered to pay $50,943,386 in restitution. Shelikhova has been in custody since her arrest at the John F. Kennedy International Airport on June 15, 2012, after living as a fugitive in Ukraine for nearly two years. After serving her sentence, Shelikhova faces deportation from the United States.
Shelikhova pleaded guilty on Dec. 18, 2012, to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering. Including Shelikhova, 13 individuals have been convicted in this case.
Court documents state that from 2005 to 2010, Shelikhova owned and operated a clinic in Brooklyn that billed Medicare under three corporate names: Bay Medical Care PC, SVS Wellcare Medical PLLC and SZS Medical Care PLLC (collectively, Bay Medical clinic). Shelikhova and her employees at the Bay Medical clinic paid cash kickbacks to Medicare beneficiaries and used the beneficiaries’ names to bill Medicare for more than $77 million in services that were medically unnecessary or never provided. The defendants billed Medicare for a wide variety of fraudulent medical services and procedures, including physician office visits, physical therapy and diagnostic tests.
According to trial testimony, Shelikhova masterminded the health care fraud at the Bay Medical clinic, which included hiring a medically unlicensed co-defendant to impersonate the clinic’s doctor and render medical care to patients. Shelikhova also directed employees to create phony medical notes in an attempt to back up the false billing and to forge doctors’ names on prescriptions and charts.
The government’s investigation included the use of a court-ordered audio/video recording device hidden in a room at the clinic, which showed conspirators paying cash kickbacks to corrupt Medicare beneficiaries. The conspirators were recorded paying approximately $500,000 in cash kickbacks during a period of approximately six weeks from April to June 2010. This room was marked “PRIVATE” and featured a Soviet-era poster of a woman with a finger to her lips and the words “Don’t Gossip” in Russian. The purpose of the kickbacks was to induce the beneficiaries to receive unnecessary medical services or to stay silent when services not provided to the patients were billed to Medicare.
To generate the large amounts of cash needed to pay the patients, Shelikhova directed the recruitment and operations of a network of external money launderers who cashed checks for the clinic. Shelikhova wrote clinic checks payable to various shell companies controlled by the money launderers. These checks did not represent payment for any legitimate service at or for the Bay Medical clinic, but rather were written to launder the clinic’s fraudulently obtained health care proceeds. The money launderers cashed these checks and provided the cash back to the clinic. Shelikhova used the cash to pay illegal cash kickbacks to the Bay Medical clinic’s purported patients.
The case was investigated by the FBI and HHS-OIG and was brought as part of the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, under the supervision of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York. This case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Sarah M. Hall of the Fraud Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Shannon Jones of the Eastern District of New York.
Since its inception in March 2007, the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, now operating in nine cities across the country, has charged more than 1,500 defendants who have collectively billed the Medicare program for more than $5 billion. In addition, HHS’s Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, working in conjunction with HHS-OIG, is 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.