Six Detroit-area residents and one Chicago-area resident were arrested today by federal agents on charges arising from the ongoing investigation into an alleged $22 million home health care fraud scheme. The indictment was announced by Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division; U.S. Attorney Barbara L. McQuade of the Eastern District of Michigan; Special Agent in Charge Robert D. Foley III of the FBI’s Detroit Field Office; Special Agent in Charge Lamont Pugh III of the Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG) Chicago Regional Office; and Special Agent in Charge Erick Martinez of the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI) Detroit Field Office.
According to the 18-count indictment returned Jan. 15, 2013, and unsealed today, the seven individuals allegedly participated in a Medicare fraud scheme operating out of four Oakland County, Mich., home health agencies claiming to provide in-home health services: Royal Home Health Care Inc., Prestige Home Health Services Inc., Platinum Home Health Services Inc. and Empirical Home Health Care Inc. The indictment alleges Medicare paid the agencies approximately $22 million for fraudulently reported services since August 2008.
In addition to the arrests, law enforcement agents suspended Medicare payments to four health care companies associated with the alleged scheme.
Muhammad Aamir, 42; Usman Butt, 39; Hemal Bhagat, 31; Syed Shah, 50; Tariq Tahir, 46; and Raquel Ellington, 56, of the Detroit area; and Tayyab Aziz, 43, from the Chicago area, each are charged with conspiracy to commit health care fraud. All but Aziz are also charged with health care fraud and with conspiracy to violate the Anti-Kickback Statute. Butt, Bhagat, Shah and Aziz are additionally charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering.
According to the indictment, Aamir and Butt owned and operated Prestige; Butt, Bhagat and Shah owned and operated Royal; and Aamir owned and operated Platinum and Empirical – all of which allegedly claimed to provide home health therapy services to Medicare beneficiaries that were unnecessary and/or were never performed. The indictment alleges Tahir and Ellington recruited Medicare beneficiaries, paying them kickbacks for their Medicare information and signatures on documents that detailed physical therapy and/or skilled nursing services that were either never rendered or not medically necessary. Aamir, Butt, Bhagat, Shah, Tahir and Ellington are also charged with conspiring to pay kickbacks to Tahir and Ellington for their recruiting work. Butt, Bhagat, Shah and Aziz allegedly conspired to launder the proceeds of the scheme.
The charges of health care fraud conspiracy and health care fraud each carry a maximum potential penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The charge of conspiracy to violate the Anti-Kickback Statute carries a maximum potential penalty of five years in prison and a $25,000 fine. The charge of conspiracy to commit money laundering carries a maximum potential penalty of 20 years in prison and a $500,000 fine.
An indictment is merely a charge and defendants are presumed innocent unless nad until proven guilty.
The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Niall M. O’Donnell of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section. The investigation is conducted jointly by the FBI and HHS-OIG, as part of the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, and IRS-CI, supervised by the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Michigan.
Since their inception in March 2007, strike force operations in nine locations have charged more than 1,480 defendants who collectively have falsely billed the Medicare program for more than $4.8 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.