The daughter of a church pastor and owner of a California-based durable medical equipment (DME) supply company was found guilty by a jury of Medicare fraud charges for her role in a Medicare fraud scheme that resulted in over $11 million in fraudulent billings to Medicare.
Acting Assistant Attorney General Mythili Raman of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division; U.S. Attorney André Birotte Jr. of the Central District of California; Special Agent in Charge Glenn R. Ferry of the Los Angeles Region of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’s Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG); Assistant Director in Charge Bill Lewis of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office; and Special Agent in Charge Joseph Fendrick of the California Department of Justice’s Bureau of Medi-Cal Fraud and Elder Abuse made the announcement.
Obiageli Agbu, 26, of Carson, Calif., was found guilty on July 19, 2013, of one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud and eight counts of health care fraud following a two-week trial.
The evidence introduced at trial showed that Agbu owned Ibon Inc., a fraudulent DME supply company that she operated from a nondescript office building in Carson. Agbu’s father and co-defendant, Charles Agbu, a church pastor who pleaded guilty to Medicare fraud and money laundering charges in December 2012, ran a fraudulent DME supply company called Bonfee Inc. from the same office building that housed Ibon. The trial evidence showed that from Ibon and Bonfee, Agbu, her father and others working with them submitted more than $11 million in fraudulent claims from Ibon and Bonfee to Medicare for expensive, high-end power wheelchairs, hospital beds, braces and other DME that customers either did not need or receive.
According to evidence at trial, Agbu and her father purchased the power wheelchairs wholesale for approximately $900 per wheelchair, but they billed the wheelchairs to Medicare at $4,000 to $5,000 per power wheelchair. These power wheelchairs were a type of medical equipment of last resort reserved for people with severe mobility limitations and could cause harm if the wheelchairs were supplied to people who did not have a legitimate medical need for them.
Agbu and her father paid kickbacks to street-level patient recruiters or “marketers” who would find senior citizens with Medicare and Medi-Cal benefits and cajole the seniors into agreeing to accept power wheelchairs and other DME that the seniors did not need. The seniors were directed to doctors who received cash kickbacks of $200 to $1,000 to write fraudulent prescriptions and other Medicare-specific documents conspirators used at Bonfee and Ibon to submit fraudulent claims to Medicare.
As a result of this scheme, between July 2005 and February 2011, Agbu, her father and those working with them submitted approximately $11,094,918 million in fraudulent claims to Medicare and received approximately $5,788,725 on those claims.
At sentencing, scheduled for Oct. 17, 2013, Agbu faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison for each count of conviction. Agbu’s father is scheduled for sentencing on Aug. 15, 2013. Agbu’s other co-defendants – Dr. Juan Van Putten, Dr. Emmanuel Ayodele, Alejandro Maciel and Candalaira Estrada – have each pleaded guilty to Medicare fraud charges and are scheduled for sentencing in September and October 2013.
The case is being investigated by the FBI, HHS-OIG and the California Department of Justice. The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorneys Jonathan T. Baum and Alexander Porter of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section, with assistance from Trial Attorney William Kanellis.
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 1,500 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.