Two Georgia Dieticians Charged With Medicaid Fraud
BRUNSWICK, GA: SCHELLA HOPE, 47, a licensed dietician whose business, Hope Nutritional Services, was located in Brunswick, Georgia, and ARLENE MURRELL, 65, a licensed dietician whose business, Quality Nutrition Services, was located in Newnan, Georgia, were charged with various health care fraud offenses in a forty-five count indictment returned by a federal grand jury sitting in Savannah, Georgia earlier this month.
The indictment alleges that HOPE and MURRELL conspired to fraudulently bill the Georgia Medicaid program for nutrition services that were purported to have been provided to children enrolled in Head Start centers located across Georgia. The indictment also alleges that between January 2005 and September 2011, HOPE submitted bills to Medicaid for these services totaling almost $4 million.
HOPE made her first court appearance in this case on Wednesday at the federal courthouse in Tallahassee, Florida, while MURRELL’s initial court appearance occurred yesterday at the federal courthouse in Brunswick, Georgia. A trial date has not yet been scheduled.
United States Attorney Edward J. Tarver said, “As the Georgia Medicaid program is jointly funded by the United States government and the State of Georgia, it is fitting that the investigation and prosecution of this case has been a team effort by this office, federal law enforcement agencies, and the Georgia Medicaid Fraud Control Unit. The United States Attorney's Office and its partners are committed to protecting the financial well-being of government-funded health programs.”
Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens said, “Fraud of taxpayer monies will not be tolerated in any form. Head Start is a program intended to offer assistance to children from low income families. The allegations that these defendants used the Head Start program and children in need to assist in their scam is especially appalling.”
“This indictment sends a clear message to those who corruptly take advantage of the Medicaid system," said Derrick L. Jackson, Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General for the Atlanta region. “The taxpayers and vulnerable recipients pay the price of Medicaid fraud and those who commit these offenses will be held accountable.”
If convicted, HOPE and MURRELL both face a maximum penalty of ten years imprisonment for the conspiracy charge, while HOPE also faces ten years imprisonment for each of the nineteen counts of health care fraud, and two years imprisonment for each of the twenty-five counts of aggravated identity theft. Each of these charges also carries a fine of up to $250,000.
United States Attorney Edward J. Tarver emphasized that an indictment is only an accusation and is not evidence of guilt. The defendant is entitled to a fair trial, during which it will be the government’s burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
FBI Special Agent Tony Alig, HHS-OIG Special Agent David Graupner, and Georgia Medicaid Fraud Control Unit Auditor Denise Colson and Investigator Gretchen Culberson conducted the investigation which led to the indictment. Assistant United States Attorneys Brian Rafferty and David Stewart and Georgia Assistant Attorney General Robin Daitch are the prosecutors in this case. For additional information, please contact First Assistant United States Attorney James D. Durham at (912) 201-2547.