WASHINGTON – The manager of a Miami health care agency and a registered nurse pleaded guilty today for their participation in a $25 million home health Medicare fraud scheme, announced the Department of Justice, the FBI and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
Lisandra Alonso, 33, and Luisa Morciego, 39, each pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Joan A. Lenard in Miami to one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud. Alonso and Morciego were charged in a February 2011 indictment. According to plea documents, Alonso was a manager and patient recruiter for ABC Home Health Care. Morciego was a registered nurse and worked for ABC and Florida Home Health Care Providers Inc. ABC and Florida Home Health were Miami home health care agencies that purported to provide home health and physical therapy services to Medicare beneficiaries. According to court documents, ABC and Florida Home Health were operated for the purpose of billing the Medicare program for expensive physical therapy and home health care services that were medically unnecessary and/or were never provided. Court documents allege that the medically unnecessary services were prescribed by doctors, including Jose Nunez, M.D., and Francisco Gonzalez, M.D. Nunez and Gonzalez were also charged in the February 2011 indictment along with Alonso, Morciego and 17 other co-conspirators.
According to court documents, beginning in approximately January 2006 and continuing until approximately March 2009, Alonso taught the owners and operators of ABC how to operate a fraudulent home health agency. Alonso explained the structure of the corrupt scheme, specifically the importance of recruiters, kickbacks, doctors, beneficiaries and Medicare billing. Alonso negotiated kickback payment rates between patient recruiters and the ABC owners and operators, and distributed the kickback payments to patient recruiters on behalf of the ABC owners and operators. Alonso also served as a patient recruiter for ABC. She paid kickbacks and bribes to beneficiaries in return for those beneficiaries allowing ABC to bill Medicare for services that were medically unnecessary and/or never provided.
Alonso also taught nurses at ABC how to falsify patient files for Medicare beneficiaries to make it appear that such beneficiaries qualified for home health care and therapy services from ABC. Alonso taught the nurses to do so by, among other things, describing in the nursing notes and patient files non-existent symptoms such as tremors, impaired vision, weak grip and inability to walk without assistance. These symptoms were described to make it appear that the patients qualified for home health care benefits under Medicare. Alonso admitted that the files were falsified so that ABC could bill Medicare for medically unnecessary services. Nurses employed by ABC also paid kickbacks to Alonso in return for being assigned patients at ABC.
As a result of Alonso’s participation in the illegal scheme, the Medicare program was billed approximately $17 million for home health care services that were medically unnecessary and/or were never provided.
According to court documents, from January 2006 to March 2009, Morciego worked as a registered nurse for ABC and Florida Home Health. During that time, Morciego falsified patient files for Medicare beneficiaries to make it appear that the beneficiaries qualified for home health care and therapy services. Morciego knew that the beneficiaries did not actually qualify for and did not receive the services. Morciego described in nursing notes and patient files symptoms that were non-existent, such as tremors, impaired vision, weak grip and inability to walk without assistance. Morciego admitted that the files were falsified so that ABC and Florida Home Health could bill Medicare for medically unnecessary services.
As a result of Morciego’s participation in the fraud schemes at ABC and Florida Home Health, Medicare was billed approximately $296,000 for services that were medically unnecessary and/or were never provided.
Morciego is scheduled to be sentenced on Dec. 5, 2011. Alonso is scheduled to be sentenced on Oct. 3, 2011. The charge of conspiracy to commit health care fraud carries a maximum prison sentence of 10 years. The defendants also face fines and terms of supervised release, as well as forfeiture of any property or proceeds derived from their criminal activities.
Drs. Nunez and Gonzalez are scheduled to begin trial on Oct. 10, 2011. An indictment is merely a charge and defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty.
Today’s guilty pleas were announced by Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Criminal Division; U.S. Attorney Wifredo A. Ferrer of the Southern District of Florida; John V. Gillies, Special Agent-in-Charge of the FBI’s Miami field office; and Special Agent-in-Charge Christopher Dennis of the HHS Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG), Office of Investigations Miami office.
This case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Joseph S. Beemsterboer of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section. The case was investigated by the FBI and HHS-OIG, 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 Southern District of Florida.
Since their inception in March 2007, Medicare Fraud Strike Force operations in nine locations have charged more than 1,000 defendants 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.
To learn more about the Health Care Fraud Prevention and Enforcement Action Team (HEAT), go to: www.stopmedicarefraud.gov .