United States Attorney Anne M. Tompkins
Western District of North Carolina
CHARLOTTE WOMAN SENTENCED TO 92 MONTHS IN PRISON FOR MEDICAID FRAUD Sarah Lavonne Willis Was Also Ordered to Pay Restitution CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Sarah Lavonne Willis, 49, of Charlotte, was sentenced on Monday, October 17, 2011, to serve 92 months in federal prison, to be followed by three years of supervised release for committing healthcare fraud, money laundering, failure to file tax returns, and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, announced Anne M. Tompkins, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina. U.S. District Judge Max O. Cogburn, Jr. also ordered Willis to pay restitution in the amount of $1,085,041.78 to the North Carolina Medicaid Program and $145,197 to the Internal Revenue Service.
U.S. Attorney Tompkins is joined in making today’s announcement by Attorney General Roy Cooper, who overseas the North Carolina Medicaid Investigations Unit (MIU); Derrick Jackson, Special Agent in Charge, Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Inspector General (HHS-OIG), Office of Investigations, Atlanta Region; Zebedee T. Graham, Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), Charlotte Field Division; Russell F. Nelson, Special Agent in Charge of the United States Secret Service (USSS), Charlotte Field Division; and Kay B. Jernigan, Acting Special Agent in Charge of the Internal Revenue Service - Criminal Investigation Division (IRS-CI).
In November 2010, a federal criminal indictment charged Willis with health care fraud, money laundering, and failure to file tax returns. According to filed court documents and court proceedings, from 2007 to 2010, Willis falsely billed the North Carolina Medical Assistance Program (Medicaid), for behavioral therapy services which she did not provide and which were not eligible for reimbursement. Specifically, Willis submitted false and fraudulent claims for juvenile and adult Medicaid beneficiaries who either never received any services or previously had received services but then terminated their relationships with Willis. Willis also submitted false and fraudulent claims stating that she had provided behavioral health services when, in fact, Willis had been incarcerated. For example, Willis was incarcerated from August 15 to August 26, 2009, yet submitted claims to Medicaid for services supposedly rendered between these dates and received payment from Medicaid in excess of $17,000. Willis also routinely submitted claims for individual therapy services which exceeded 24 hours in a single day, with some claimed services exceeding 80 hours per day.
Willis received a total of $1,085,041.78 from Medicaid as reimbursement based upon her false and fraudulent claims. Willis then used these fraudulent proceeds to purchase several luxury items, including a $40,000 Hummer H2, a $100,000 2006 Bentley Continental Flying Spur, a $14,000 Dodge Charger and three separate visits to an area hotel and resort, each of which exceeded $10,000. Willis also used proceeds of her fraud to bail herself out of jail in December 2009. Willis also failed to file tax returns for the year 2008. She entered a plea of guilty in February 2011.
Under a separate criminal indictment filed in March 2010, Willis was charged with possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, stemming from an incident that occurred on February 25, 2010, during which Willis was arrested after officers located a Hi-Point, model C-9, semiautomatic 9mm pistol in her purse in the vehicle in which she was a passenger. Officers also located drug paraphernalia, including crack pipes, in the vehicle. Willis had previously been convicted of a felony at the time that she possessed the firearm, which had been stolen from the trunk of another individual’s vehicle just seven weeks earlier. Willis pled guilty to the federal firearms violation in October 2010.
Willis has been in local federal custody in the Western District of North Carolina since March 2010. Upon designation of a federal facility, she will be transferred into custody of the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Federal sentences are served without the possibility of parole. The investigation and charges are the work of the Western District’s joint Health Care Fraud Task Force. The Task Force is multi-agency team of experienced federal and state investigators, working in conjunction with criminal and civil Assistant United States Attorneys, dedicated to identifying and prosecuting those who defraud the health care system, and reducing the potential for health care fraud in the future. The Task Force focuses on the coordination of cases, information sharing, identification of trends in health care fraud throughout the region, staffing of all whistle blower complaints, and the creation of investigative teams so that individual agencies may focus their unique areas of expertise on investigations. The Task Force builds upon existing partnerships between the agencies and its work reflects a heightened effort to reduce fraud and recover taxpayer dollars.
The investigation into Willis was handled by HHS-OIG, MIU, ATF, USSS, and IRS. Special assistance to the Task Force was provided by the North Carolina Division of Medical Assistance, Program of Integrity Section. The prosecution for the government was handled by Assistant U.S. Attorney Kelli H. Ferry of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Charlotte. If you suspect Medicare or Medicaid fraud please report it by phone at 1-800-447-8477 (1-800-HHS-TIPS), or E-Mail at HHSTips@oig.hhs.gov.