WASHINGTON – An Oakland, Calif., woman was sentenced today to 57 months in prison for her role in a scam to bill Medicare for more than $1.2 million in claims for expensive, high-end power wheelchairs and other durable medical equipment (DME) that were not medically necessary, announced the Departments of Justice and Health and Human Services (HHS).
Donna K. Wells, 52, was convicted in November 2010 of health care fraud after a one-week jury trial in the Central District of California. In addition to her prison term, U.S. District Court Judge Dale S. Fischer sentenced Wells to three years of supervised release and ordered her to pay $240,380 in restitution.
The evidence introduced at Wells’ trial showed that Wells worked the streets and low-income, senior living communities of Oakland to recruit Medicare beneficiaries to bill Medicare for expensive power wheelchairs and DME that the beneficiaries did not want, need, or use. Medicare beneficiaries who testified at trial said that Wells approached them on the street, at the store, or in the lobbies of their apartment buildings and offered them free power wheelchairs in exchange for the beneficiaries allowing Wells to copy their Medicare and California identification cards. Witnesses who lived in or worked at the San Pablo Hotel, a low-income, senior living community in Oakland, testified that Wells often sat in the lobby of the hotel to recruit beneficiaries. These and other witnesses testified that many of the residents of the San Pablo Hotel did not use the power wheelchairs that Wells provided to them.
Witness testimony at Wells’ trial established that Wells sold to other individuals the information she solicited from beneficiaries for between $400 and $500 per beneficiary. The individuals who purchased the information from Wells, including the operators of a fraudulent medical clinic in Los Angeles, used the beneficiary information from Wells to fabricate fraudulent prescriptions and medical documents which were then sold to and used by numerous fraudulent Los Angeles-area DME supply companies to submit false claims to Medicare. The claims were for power wheelchairs that cost Medicare approximately $4,000 per wheelchair but cost the DME supply companies only approximately $900 per wheelchair, the wholesale price. One of the DME supply companies that used the Medicare beneficiary information from Wells to defraud Medicare was Maydads Medical Supply of Arleta, Calif, which was owned by Wells’ co-defendant, Sylvester Ijewere, who was sentenced in October 2010 to 46 months in prison for Medicare fraud.
In imposing Wells’ sentence, Judge Fischer found that Wells was responsible for more than $1.2 million in false claims that were submitted to Medicare for approximately 200 Medicare beneficiaries. Judge Fischer also found that Wells purposely misled beneficiaries into believing that she worked for Medicare or another government agency when Wells solicited them to receive power wheelchairs and DME.
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 Office of Inspector General for HHS (HHS-OIG); and Steven Martinez, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office.
The case was prosecuted by Trial Attorney Jonathan Baum and Senior Trial Attorney John Michelich of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section. The case was investigated by the California Department of Justice. 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.
Since their inception in March 2007, 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, 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 .