A federal jury today convicted a Miami-area supervisor of a mental health care company, Health Care Solutions Network (HCSN), for helping to orchestrate a fraud scheme that crossed state lines and that resulted in the submission of more than $63 million in fraudulent claims to Medicare and Florida Medicaid.
The announcement was made by Acting Assistant Attorney General Mythili Raman of the Justice Department's Criminal Division; U.S. Attorney Wifredo A. Ferrer of the Southern District of Florida; Michael B. Steinbach, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI's Miami Field Office; and Special Agent in Charge Christopher B. Dennis of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG), Office of Investigation’s Miami office.
After a five-day trial, a jury in the Southern District of Florida found Wondera Eason, 51, guilty of conspiracy to commit health care fraud. Sentencing is scheduled for July 8, 2013.
Eason was employed as the Director of Medical Records at HCSN’s Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP). A PHP is a form of intensive treatment for severe mental illness. In Florida, HCSN operated community mental health centers at two locations. After stealing millions from Medicare and Medicaid in Florida, HCSN’s owner, Armando Gonzalez, exported the scheme to North Carolina, opening a third HCSN location in Hendersonville.
Evidence at trial showed that at all three locations, Eason, a certified medical records technician, oversaw the alteration, fabrication, and forgery of thousands of documents, which purported to support the fraudulent claims HCSN submitted to Medicare and Florida Medicaid. Many of these medical records were created weeks or months after the patients were admitted to HCSN facilities in Florida for purported PHP treatment and were utilized to support false and fraudulent billing to government sponsored health care benefit programs, including Medicare and Florida Medicaid. Eason directed therapists to fabricate documents, and she also forged the signature of therapists and others on documents that she was in charge of maintaining. Eason interacted with Medicare and Medicaid auditors, providing them with false and fraudulent documents, while certifying the documents were accurate.
The “therapy” at HCSN oftentimes consisted of nothing more than patients watching Disney movies, playing bingo and having barbeques. Eason directed therapists to remove any references to these recreational activities in the medical records.
According to evidence at trial, Eason was aware that HCSN in Florida paid illegal kickbacks to owners and operators of Miami-Dade County Assisted Living Facilities (ALF) in exchange for patient referral information to be used to submit false and fraudulent claims to Medicare and Medicaid. Eason also knew that many of the ALF referral patients were ineligible for PHP services because many patients suffered from mental retardation, dementia and Alzheimer's disease.
From 2004 through 2011, HCSN billed Medicare and the Florida Medicaid program approximately $63 million for purported mental health services.
Fifteen defendants have been charged for their alleged roles in the HCSN health care fraud scheme, and 12 defendants have pleaded guilty. On Monday, Feb. 25, 2013, Gonzalez was sentenced to serve 168 months in prison for his role in the scheme. Alleged co-conspirators Alina Feas and Lisset Palmero are scheduled for trial on June 3, 2013. Defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty at trial.
This case is being 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. This case was prosecuted by Trial Attorneys Allan J. Medina and Steven Kim, former Special Trial Attorney William Parente and Deputy Chief Benjamin D. Singer of the Criminal Division's Fraud Section.
Since its inception in March 2007, the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, now operating in nine cities across the country, has charged more than 1,480 defendants who have collectively billed the Medicare program for more than $4.8 billion. In addition, HHS’s Centers for Medicare and 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.