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Department of Justice
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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tuesday, February 14, 2012
Two Houston-Area Nurses Sentenced to More Than Five Years in Prison for Roles in $5.2 Million Medicare Fraud Scheme

WASHINGTON – Two Houston-area nurses and two of their co-conspirators have been sentenced in Houston for their participation in a $5.2 million Medicare fraud scheme, announced the Department of Justice, the FBI and the Department of Health and Human Service (HHS).            

  • Mary Ellis, 56, a licensed vocational nurse, was sentenced today to 63 months in prison followed by three years of supervised release and was ordered to pay $401,000 in restitution.  Ellis was convicted of one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud, one count of conspiracy to pay kickbacks, three counts of receiving illegal kickbacks and two counts of making false statements following a May 2011 trial.
  • Caroline Njoku, 46, also a licensed vocational nurse, was sentenced yesterday to 63 months in prison followed by one year of supervised release and was ordered to pay $631,295 in restitution.  Njoku was convicted of one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud and one count of conspiracy to pay kickbacks following a May 2011 trial. 
    Terrie Porter, 48, was sentenced yesterday to two years in prison and two years of supervised release and was ordered to pay $482,380 in restitution.  Porter was convicted of one count of conspiracy to receive kickbacks and one count of receiving illegal kickbacks following a May 2011 trial.
  • Florida Holiday Island, 62, was sentenced yesterday to 20 days in prison, five months of home detention and two and a half years of supervised release and was ordered to pay $59,739 in restitution.  Island pleaded guilty in March 2011 to one count of conspiracy to receive kickbacks and one count of receiving illegal kickbacks. 

The defendants were sentenced by U.S. District Judge Nancy Atlas in the Southern District of Texas.  The four defendants were ordered to pay restitution jointly and severally with co-conspirators and defendants in a related case.  As part of the sentencing, the court found that Ellis had obstructed justice by testifying untruthfully at trial.

According to the evidence presented at trial and in court documents, Family Healthcare Group, a Houston home health care company, purported to provide skilled nursing to Medicare beneficiaries.  Family Healthcare Group paid Ellis, Porter, Island and other co-conspirators to recruit Medicare beneficiaries for the purpose of filing claims with Medicare for skilled nursing that was medically unnecessary and/or not provided.  According to evidence presented at trial, Njoku and Ellis falsified documents to support the fraudulent payments.  After the Medicare beneficiaries were recruited, other co-conspirators fraudulently signed plans of care stating that the beneficiaries needed home health care when in fact they knew the beneficiaries were not home-bound and not in need of skilled nursing. 

Co-defendant Adelma Casas Sevilla, a registered nurse, was previously sentenced to 18 months in prison.  A second co-defendant, Sammie Wilson, received three years of probation after pleading guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud.  Four other defendants involved in the scheme are pending sentencing.

The sentences were announced by Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division; U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson of the Southern District of Texas; Special Agent-In-Charge Stephen L. Morris of the FBI’s Houston Field Office; Special Agent-in-Charge Mike Fields of the Dallas Regional Office of HHS’s Office of the Inspector General (HHS-OIG) and the Texas Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit (MFCU).

This case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Charles D. Reed and Deputy Chief Sam S. Sheldon of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section.  The case was investigated by the FBI, HHS-OIG, Texas OAG-MFCU and the Federal Railroad Retirement Board-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 Texas.

Since their inception in March 2007, Medicare Fraud Strike Force operations in nine locations have charged more than 1,190 defendants who collectively have falsely billed the Medicare program for more than $3.2 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.

To learn more about the Health Care Fraud Prevention and Enforcement Action Team (HEAT), go to: www.stopmedicarefraud.gov.

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