United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner
Eastern District of California
Third Physician Sentenced To Lengthy Prison Sentence In Medicare Fraud Case
|FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE||
Wednesday, October 24, 2012
|Docket #: 2:08-CR-00427 MCE|
SACRAMENTO, Calif.– Dr. Ramanathan Prakash, 65, of Northridge, CA, was sentenced today by United States District Judge Morrison C. England, Jr. to a statutory maximum 10 year prison sentence. The defendant had been found guilty of Conspiring to Commit healthcare fraud, and three counts of healthcare fraud by a jury on July 8, 2011. Judge England also imposed a $75,000 fine and ordered Prakash to pay $607,456.80 in restitution.
According to testimony presented at trial, from February 2006 through August 2008, Vardges Egiazarian, 63, of Panorama City, owned and controlled three health care clinics in Sacramento, Richmond, and Carmichael. Egiazarian and others recruited doctors to submit applications to Medicare for billing numbers. Prakash participated in the establishment of a clinic in Sacramento, although he lived in the Los Angeles area. He established the Medicare provider number for the clinic, signed the lease and established a bank account for the clinic. He only visited the clinic twice.
According to evidence at trial, Prakash never treated a single patient at the clinic. Clinic patients, almost all of whom were elderly and non-English speaking, were recruited and transported to the clinics by individuals who were paid according to the number of patients they brought to the facilities. Rather than being charged a co-payment, the patients were paid for their time and the use of their Medicare eligibility, generally $100 per visit. False charts were created stating that each patient received comprehensive exams and a broad array of diagnostic tests. Few of these tests were ever performed, none were performed based on any medical need, and clinic employees filled out other portions of the charts using preprinted templates. Some clinic employees admitted to performing various tests on themselves, and placing the results in patient files.
Patient files were then transported to Los Angeles where Prakash signed them indicating he provided or approved the treatments. In all, the three clinics submitted more than $5 million worth of fraudulent claims to Medicare, $1.7 million of which was actually paid. In return for their roles, Prakash and the other physicians received 20 percent of the billings paid under their provider numbers.
The sentence imposed by Judge England not only held Dr. Prakash accountable for the underlying Medicare fraud, but also for acts the Court termed obstruction of justice following his conviction. The government submitted proof to the Court, including taped telephone calls made by Dr. Prakash from the Sacramento County Jail, detailing his efforts to hide his assets from the Court and protect them from potential collection by the government. Judge England stated there was evidence of a pattern by the defendant, beginning from the time of the jury’s verdict and continuing through the date of sentencing, to deceive the Court about items ranging from his wealth to false claims of mental and physical disabilities.
In sentencing Dr. Prakash to the statutory maximum, Judge England made clear that he was sending a message intended to deter others who would engage in similar fraud. Referring specifically to Medicare, Judge England said, “The system has been harmed.” The Court continued,
Citizens of the United States have an expectation that the money being used to provide medical services, actually are being used for that purpose. The losses suffered are ultimately borne by the overall budget of the United States. This has to stop. . . . I want to send a clear message to any physician thinking of engaging in this kind of activity. This is not the way to go. You will be dealt with severely and swiftly.
“Medicare pays for the delivery of health care services to millions of Americans,” U.S. Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner remarked. “Health care providers who defraud Medicare undermine this program and divert dollars that should be spent on services for those who really need them. We will continue to prosecute vigorously those who defraud the Medicare program.”
“HHS OIG works diligently to investigate allegations of Medicare fraud and bring criminals to justice,” said HHS OIG Special Agent in Charge Ivan Negroni. “If you are committing Healthcare fraud, we will find you, investigate and prosecute you.”
This case is the product of an extensive/joint investigation by the Office of the Inspector General for the Department of Health and Human Services and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Assistant United States Attorneys Philip Ferrari and Jean Hobler prosecuted the case.
Others who were charged in this matter include:
- Lana Le Chabrier, a doctor involved with the Richmond clinic was sentenced to six and a half years in prison after a jury found her guilty on July 8, 2011.
- Vardges Egiazarian is currently serving six and a half years in prison.
- Alexander Popov, a doctor involved with the Sacramento clinic, is currently serving eight years and one month in prison.
- Derrick Johnson, a doctor involved with the Richmond clinic, pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing.
- Nazaret Salmanyan, an unlicensed ultrasound technician who worked at all three clinics, pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing.
- Zoya Belov, a nurse licensed in Russia but not the United States who worked at all three clinics, pleaded guilty plea and is awaiting sentencing.
- Shushanik Martirosyan, who billed Medicare as part of the scheme, pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing.
- Migran Petrosyan, one of the clinic owners, pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing.
- Liw Jiaw Saechao, aka Jenny Saechao, recruited patients, pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing.
Another physician involved with the clinics, Emilio Cruz, was arrested on July 21, 2011, and remains in custody pending trial. The charges in the superseding indictment as to Cruz are only allegations and he is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.