Fort Lauderdale, Florida-Area Halfway House Owner Sentenced to 28 Months in Prison for Participating in Medicare Fraud Kickback Scheme
WASHINGTON – The owner and president of a Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-area halfway house company was sentenced today to 28 months in prison for her role in a kickback scheme that funneled patients to a fraudulent mental health provider, American Therapeutic Corporation (ATC), announced the Department of Justice, the FBI and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
Natalie Evans, 50, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Jose E. Martinez in the Southern District of Florida. In addition to her prison term, Evans was sentenced to three years of supervised release and was ordered to pay $253,867 in restitution.
Evans pleaded guilty in October 2011 to one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud. Evans was the president of Vision of Hope Recovery Inc., which operated five halfway houses in Fort Lauderdale.
According to court documents, most of the residents at Evans’s halfway houses were recovering from drug and/or alcohol addictions, and some had recently been released from prison. ATC purported to operate partial hospitalization programs (PHPs) in seven different locations throughout south Florida and Orlando. A PHP is a form of intensive treatment for severe mental illness.
According to court documents, Evans agreed to provide Medicare beneficiaries from Vision of Hope halfway houses to ATC for PHP services. Evans admitted that she knew the beneficiaries at her halfway houses needed day treatment for addiction and not PHP services. Evans also knew that ATC fraudulently billed the Medicare program for the PHP services provided to the beneficiaries she referred to ATC. According to court documents, Evans gave patient information, such as Medicare numbers, to a co-conspirator, and the patients were then transported to and from ATC by ATC employees.
According to court filings, ATC’s owners and operators paid kickbacks to owners and operators of assisted living facilities and halfway houses and to patient brokers in exchange for delivering ineligible patients to ATC and ASI. In some cases, the patients received a portion of those kickbacks. Throughout the course of the ATC and ASI conspiracy, millions of dollars in kickbacks were paid in exchange for Medicare beneficiaries who did not qualify for PHP services. The ineligible beneficiaries attended treatment programs that were not legitimate so that ATC and ASI could bill Medicare for more than $200 million in medically unnecessary services.
According to the plea agreement, Evans’s participation in the fraud resulted in more than $645,975 in fraudulent billing to the Medicare program.
ATC, its management company Medlink Professional Management Group Inc., and various owners, managers, doctors, therapists, patient brokers and marketers of ATC, Medlink and ASI, were charged with various health care fraud, kickback, money laundering and other offenses in two indictments unsealed on Feb. 15, 2011. ATC, Medlink and 10 of the individual defendants have pleaded guilty or have been convicted at trial. Other defendants are scheduled for trial April 9, 2012, before U.S. District Judge Patricia A. Seitz.
Today’s sentence was announced by Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division; U.S. Attorney Wifredo A. Ferrer of the Southern District of Florida; John V. Gillies, Special Agent-in-Charge of the FBI’s Miami field office; and Special Agent-in-Charge Christopher B. Dennis of the HHS Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG), Office of Investigations Miami office.
The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorneys Steven Kim and Jennifer L. Saulino of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section. The case was investigated by the FBI and HHS-OIG and was brought as part of the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, supervised by the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida.
Since its inception in March 2007, the Medicare Fraud Strike Force operations in nine locations have charged more than 1,160 defendants that collectively have billed the Medicare program for more than $2.9 billion. In addition, HHS’s 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.