Tampa-Area Resident Charged In Nationwide Medicare Fraud Strike Force Takedown
WASHINGTON – The Departments of Justice, Health and Human Services, and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement announce today that a Tampa-area pharmacist was charged for illegal diversion of controlled substances. In an indictment unsealed today, Emmanuel Mekowulu (56, Tampa) was charged with conspiring to distribute controlled substances, primarily Oxycodone, not for a legitimate medical purpose, and outside the usual course of professional practice. Mekowulu was arrested earlier today by members of the Tampa Bay Medicare Fraud Strike Force. He faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison. The indictment also notifies Mekowulu that the United States intends to forfeit his Florida Department of Health Pharmacist License; the DEA Registration and Florida Department of Health Pharmacy License for Felky Rx, LLC, which are alleged to be property used to commit or to facilitate the commission of the offense. The United States is also seeking a money judgment in the amount of $121,350.00, representing the amount of proceeds that Mekowulu obtained as a result of the conduct charged in the indictment. Assistant United States Attorney Kathy J.M. Peluso is prosecuting the case.
In addition to the arrest of Mekowulu, agents of the Tampa Bay Strike Force also executed search warrants at four businesses in the Tampa Bay area today. These law enforcement efforts in Tampa are part of a nationwide takedown by Medicare Fraud Strike Force operations in seven cities. The national effort is linked to charges against 107 individuals for their alleged participation in schemes to collectively submit more than $452 million in fraudulent claims to Medicare.
“Any time false claims are submitted for payment, our nation’s health insurance programs and beneficiaries suffer,” said Christopher Dennis, Special Agent in Charge of the federal Health and Human Services Department, Office of Inspector General's region covering Florida. Today’s arrest brings a successful conclusion to a lengthy health care fraud/prescription drug diversion investigation involving exceptional partnerships between Federal, state and local law enforcement.”
“Individuals involved in health care fraud activities steal vital resources from those citizens who truly need them. The FBI and our local law enforcement partners continue to increase our investigative efforts and rely on the public’s support in combating this crime problem,” said Special Agent in Charge Steven E. Ibison, FBI Tampa Field Office.
“FDLE is committed to ending the illegal distribution of prescription drugs,” said Commissioner Gerald Bailey. “We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to investigate and arrest those who represent a danger to Florida.”
Last week two arrests were made as a result of investigations generated by the Tampa Bay Strike Force. Luis Duluc (51, formerly of Weston, Florida), and Margarita Grishkoff (57, Charlotte, North Carolina) were charged with health care fraud-related violations. According to the thirty-count indictment, Duluc and Grishkoff utilized multiple physical therapy clinics to fraudulently bill Medicare for services not rendered to any Medicare beneficiaries. During the time frame of the conspiracy, through their holding company, Duluc and Grishkoff allegedly purchased three physical therapy clinics in the Middle District of Florida. These clinics were used by Duluc and Grishkoff to fraudulently bill Medicare. The indictment alleges that, as a result of the health care fraud scheme, Medicare paid out approximately $8,152,262.14 for services not rendered. Assistant United States Attorney Simon Gaugush is prosecuting the case.
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 1,330 defendants who collectively have falsely billed the Medicare program for more than $4 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.
The results of today’s nationwide takedown were announced earlier today by Attorney General Eric Holder, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer, FBI Deputy Director Shawn Henry, HHS Deputy Inspector General Gary Cantrell and Deputy Administrator for Program Integrity of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Dr. Peter Budetti.
An indictment is merely a charge and defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty.
To learn more about HEAT, go to: www.stopmedicarefraud.gov.