Eighteen Los Angeles-Area Residents Charged as Part of Nationwide Medicare Fraud Strike Force Takedown
91 Defendants Charged in Seven Cities Linked to about $430 Million in False Billing
LOS ANGELES – Eighteen Los Angeles-area residents – including three doctors and one physical therapist – have been charged in six local cases for their roles in schemes to submit more than $65 million in false billing to Medicare.
The charges in Los Angeles are part of a nationwide takedown by Medicare Fraud Strike Force operations in seven cities that led to charges against 91 individuals for their alleged participation in schemes to collectively submit nearly $430 million in fraudulent claims to Medicare. The more than $65 million in fraudulent billing from the Los Angeles cases is believed to be the highest amount of false Medicare billing in a single Los Angeles takedown in Strike Force history.
“Medicare fraud is a national problem that has a very local dimension, impacting patients, health care providers and taxpayers in every part of the nation,” said United States Attorney André Birotte Jr. “Here in Southern California, we will continue to work with our federal, state and local partners to crack down on the unscrupulous profiteers who threaten the integrity of our health care industry, as well as the well-being of its patients and practitioners.”
In Washington today, Attorney General Eric Holder said: “Today’s enforcement actions reveal an alarming and unacceptable trend of individuals attempting to exploit federal health care programs to steal billions in taxpayer dollars for personal gain. Such activities not only siphon precious taxpayer resources, drive up health care costs, and jeopardize the strength of the Medicare program – they also disproportionately victimize the most vulnerable members of society, including elderly, disabled and impoverished Americans. (see today’s Department of Justice national press release at: http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/2012/October/12-ag-1205.html.)
According to court documents unsealed today in Los Angeles, four people affiliated with the Los Angeles-based Alpha Ambulance, Inc. were charged with submitting more than $49 million in false claims to Medicare between 2008 and 2012. According to the indictment, Alpha’s owners – Alex Kapri, 55, of Hollywood Hills, and Aleksey Muratov, 31, of Burbank– along with employees Wesley Kingsbury, 33, of Bloomington, and Danielle Medina, 35, of Corona, submitted claims for medically unnecessary transportation services and then created fake documentation to support those claims. Kapri, Muratov, and Kingsbury were arrested this morning and they – together with Medina, who self-surrendered this morning – are scheduled to make their initial appearances before a United States Magistrate Judge this afternoon.
“The FBI is committed to addressing criminal activity in the healthcare system that drains the Medicare Program of billions each year, a cost borne by taxpayers in the end,” said Timothy J. Delaney, the Acting Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office. “The defendants are accused in various cases of schemes targeting Medicare beneficiaries, primarily the elderly, and billing the federal government at inflated rates for services, or for services that were never provided.”
In three separate cases, individuals associated with four durable medical equipment (DME) companies – Bonfee Medical Supplies; Ibon, Inc.; Fendih Medical Supplies, Inc.; and Las Tunas Medical Equipment, Inc. – were charged with submitting fraudulent claims to Medicare.
The owners of Bonfee and Ibon – Charles Agbu, 58, and his daughter, Brooke bgbu, 25, Agbu, of Carson – were previously indicted on charges of conspiracy to commit health care fraud related to medically unnecessary power wheelchairs. In a superseding indictment returned by a federal grand jury late last month and unsealed today, four additional defendants were added. The new defendants are Dr. Emmanuel Ayodele, 64, of Westlake; Dr. Juan Van Putten, 65, of Ladera Heights; patient recruiters Alejandro Maciel, 41, of Huntington Park; and Candelaria Estrada, 37, also of Huntington Park. The doctors and patient recruiters are charged with conspiring with the Agbus to provide bogus prescriptions to Bonfee and Ibon, which allegedly used those prescriptions to submit more than $12.3 million in fraudulent claims to Medicare for the recruited patients. Ayodele, Maciel, and Estrada were arrested this morning and are scheduled to make their initial appearances this afternoon. Van Putten and the Agbus are expected to appear in federal court for an arraignment later this month.
In another case unsealed today, Victoria Onyeabor, 52, and her husband, Godwin Onyeabor, 49, both of Ontario, who own Fendih Medical Supplies in San Bernardino, were charged with conspiring with Dr. Sri J. Wijegunaratne, also known as “Dr. J,” 57, of Anaheim, to commit health care fraud. According to the indictment, the Onyeabors received prescriptions for medically unnecessary power wheelchairs from Wijegunaratne in return for kickbacks and used those prescriptions to submit more than $1.5 million in fraudulent billing to Medicare. The Onyeabors, Wijegunaratne, and a fourth defendant, Heidi Morishita, 51, of Valencia, who brought prescriptions to Fendih, also conspired in the payment and receipt of illegal kickbacks related to Fendih’s Medicare billing. Wijegunaratne and Morishita were arrested this morning and they, together with Godwin Onyeabor, are scheduled to be arraigned this afternoon in United States District Court in Los Angeles
Tigran Aklyan, 36, of Van Nuys, was arrested this morning on charges that he caused the San Gabriel DME company he owned, Las Tunas Medical Equipment, to submit more than $900,000 in fraudulent billings to Medicare, primarily for medically unnecessary power wheelchairs. Aklyan is scheduled to be arraigned this afternoon.
In another case, one defendant self-surrendered today on charges related to fraudulent Medicare billing for physical therapy claims. Eddie Choi, 44, of Westlake, was a co-owner of California Neuro-Rehabilitation (CNR), a physical therapy clinic that allegedly submitted more than $2 million in fraudulent claims Medicare. Choi allegedly submitted bills for physical therapy when, in fact, the services, to the extent they were rendered at all, were massage and acupuncture that Medicare does not cover. A second person charged in this case – Won Suk Lee, 54, most recently of Murrieta, who is currently a fugitive – performed some of the treatments, even though he is not licensed to perform physical therapy. Choi allegedly caused CNR to bill Medicare for Lee’s patients and then paid Lee with approximately 60 percent of the Medicare reimbursements CNR received. Choi is scheduled to make his initial appearance this afternoon in United States District Court.
Finally, in a sixth case made public today, Vivian Neri, 58, of Baldwin Park, was charged with soliciting home health referrals in exchange for kickbacks. Neri is associated with at least $40,000 in home health services claims submitted to Medicare. Neri self-surrendered this morning and is scheduled to make her initial appearance this afternoon.
Glenn R. Ferry, Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General, Los Angeles region, stated: “It is exceedingly important that federal, state and local law enforcement be tightly coordinated and flexible enough to address health care fraud in its many evolving forms. So as in today’s actions, when ambulance companies, physical therapy operations, durable medical equipment companies, or other health organizations are suspected of breaking the law, they can expect swift justice.”
The defendants charged in these cases face a variety of criminal offenses, including conspiracy to commit health care fraud, a charge that carries a statutory maximum penalty of 10 years in federal prison.
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 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.
In addition to the six Los Angeles-area cases made public today as a part of the nationwide Strike Force takedown, prosecutors recently arrested Bamidele Tola Abdulrahoof, 60, most recently of Palos Verdes, on charges he submitted fraudulent claims to Medicare for medically unnecessary or not-provided DME products through his company, Warz Medical Supply. Indicted in August 2009, Abdulrahoof remained a fugitive until September 2012 when he arrested coming across the U.S.-Mexico international border. Abdulrahoof entered a not guilty plea last month.
An indictment contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed to be innocent until proven guilty in court.
The Los Angeles cases announced today are being prosecuted by Medicare Fraud Strike Force teams comprised of attorneys from the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Fraud Section of the Justice Department's Criminal Division. The investigations in these cases were conducted by agents from the FBI, HHS-OIG, and the California Department of Justice.
To learn more about HEAT, go to: www.stopmedicarefraud.gov. Persons who want to report incidents of Medicare fraud can file a report directly from the website, or they may call the toll-free number for HHS-OIG at 1-800-HHS-TIPS (800-447-8477).
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