WASHINGTON – Two Miami-area residents pleaded guilty today in connection with a $10 million Medicare fraud scheme involving HIV infusion clinics, Acting Assistant Attorney General Rita M. Glavin of the Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney R. Alexander Acosta of the Southern District of Florida announced.
Dr. Carmen Del Cueto, 65, and Alexis Dagnesses, 44, each pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud before U.S. District Judge Paul C. Huck. Both defendants admitted to working at Midway Medical Center Inc. (Midway), a Miami clinic that purported to specialize in the treatment of patients with HIV.
According to plea documents, Del Cueto was a co-owner of and practicing physician at Midway. Del Cueto and her co-conspirators billed Medicare routinely for services that were medically unnecessary and, in many instances, never provided. Del Cueto admitted to purchasing only a small fraction of the medication that was purportedly being administered to Midway’s patients.
Most of the services allegedly provided to patients at Midway were billed to the Medicare program as treatments for a diagnosis of thrombocytopenia, a disorder involving a low count of platelets in the blood. According to court documents, none of Midway’s patients actually had low blood platelet counts. To make it appear that the patients actually had low platelet levels, Del Cueto admitted that she and her co-conspirators used chemists, including Dagnesses, to manipulate the blood samples drawn from Midway’s patients before the blood was sent to a laboratory for analysis. In her plea, Del Cueto admitted to ordering that patients at Midway receive medications to treat thrombocytopenia despite knowing that the laboratory results had been falsified and the patients did not actually have any such condition.
Midway was not the only clinic where Del Cueto purported to treat HIV patients with injection and infusion therapies. In her plea, Del Cueto admitted that she engaged in substantially similar fraudulent conduct at Diagnostic Medical Center Inc. (Diagnostic), another Miami-area infusion clinic. At Diagnostic, Del Cueto admitted that she and her co-conspirators also billed the Medicare program for HIV injection and infusion services that she knew were medically unnecessary and, in some instances, never actually provided. At the two clinics, Del Cueto admitted to causing the submission of approximately $9.5 million in fraudulent claims to Medicare.
Dagnesses admitted that he would obtain vials of blood drawn from Midway’s patients and place those vials in a blood centrifuge. After rotating the blood in the centrifuge for approximately 15 minutes, the blood would separate into its component parts, enabling Dagnesses to extract the platelets from the sample. Dagnesses would then return the adulterated blood to his co-conspirators at Midway, who would send it to a laboratory for testing. Dagnesses admitted that he was generally usually paid $1,000 for every vial of blood that he tainted for his co-conspirators at Midway. Dagnesses admitted he was aware that the purpose of tainting the blood was to obtain false laboratory reports for Midway’s medical files, which would make it appear that the medications allegedly provided at Midway were medically necessary, when in fact they were not necessary.
The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorneys John K. Neal and Anthony Burba of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section. The case is being investigated by the FBI and the Department of Health and Human Services-Office of Inspector General. The case was brought as part of the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, supervised by Deputy Chief Kirk Ogrosky of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and U.S. Attorney Acosta of the Southern District of Florida. Since the inception of MFSF operations, federal prosecutors have indicted 106 cases with 196 defendants in Miami and Los Angeles. Collectively, these defendants fraudulently billed the Medicare program for more than $577 million.