Houston-Area Registered Nurse Pleads Guilty to Conspiring to Defraud Medicare of More than $5 Million
A Houston-Area registered nurse pleaded guilty today for his role in a Medicare fraud scheme that resulted in losses to Medicare of more than $5 million.
Acting Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Blanco of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Acting U.S. Attorney Abe Martinez of the Southern District of Texas, Special Agent in Charge Perrye K. Turner of the FBI’s Houston Field Office, Special Agent in Charge C.J. Porter of the Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General’s (HHS-OIG) Dallas Regional Office, Special Agent in Charge D. Richard Goss of Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation’s (IRS-CI) Houston Field Office and the Texas Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit (MFCU) made the announcement.
Charles Esechie, 47, of Katy, Texas, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Sim Lake of the Southern District of Texas to one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud. Esechie is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Lake on Aug. 17, 2017
According to the plea, from 2008 through 2015, Esechie worked as a nurse for both Harris County, Texas, Hospital District (Harris County) and Baptist Home Care Providers Inc. (Baptist), one of five Houston-area home healthcare agencies owned by Godwin Oriakhi. Esechie admitted that while he worked at Baptist, he knew that Oriakhi obtained Medicare patients by paying illegal kickback payments to patient recruiters for referring patients to Baptist for home healthcare services that Esechie knew were medically unnecessary and often not provided. Esechie also admitted that he knew that some of patients referred by the patient recruiters were homeless, and that many patients stayed at Baptist in order to receive kickbacks from Oriakhi rather than actual healthcare.
Additionally, Esechie admitted that he engaged in a scheme to defraud Medicare through the submission of fraudulent claims for home health care services. Esechie admitted that he completed Baptist’s Medicare documents while working full time as a Harris County nurse, often claiming that he was evaluating patients for Baptist at times when his Harris County employment records showed that he was across town working at a Harris County hospital. To accommodate his fulltime work schedule at Harris County and to avoid actually having to travel to the homes of Baptist’s patients for evaluations, Esechie admitted that he copied patient and medical information from templates created for him by Orikahi and Baptist’s office staff onto Baptist’s Medicare documents. Esechie also admitted that he saw patients in groups at the home of one of Oriakhi’s patient recruiters and conducted perfunctory examinations that lasted approximately five to 10 minutes, but overbilled Medicare for comprehensive examinations.
In total, Esechie admitted that he, Oriakhi and others submitted approximately $5,099,970 in fraudulent home healthcare claims to Medicare, and received approximately $4,792,199 on those claims.
To date, Jermaine Doleman, a patient recruiter, and Idia Oriakhi, Oriakhi’s daughter and the administrator of several of his home healthcare agencies, have pleaded guilty and are awaiting sentencing for their roles in the scheme. Godwin Oriakhi is charged with conspiracy, health care fraud, paying illegal kickbacks and money laundering offenses for his alleged role in the schemes and is scheduled for trial on April 11, 2017. All defendants are presumed innocent unless and until convicted beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.
The FBI, HHS-OIG, IRS-CI and MFCU investigated the case, which was brought by the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, under the supervision of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas. Senior Trial Attorney Jonathan T. Baum and Trial Attorneys Aleza S. Remis and William S.W. Chang of the Fraud Section are prosecuting the case.
The Fraud Section leads the Medicare Fraud Strike Force. Since its inception in March 2007, the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, now operating in nine cities across the country, has charged over 3,000 defendants who collectively have billed the Medicare program for over $11 billion. In addition, the HHS Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, working in conjunction with the HHS-OIG, are taking steps to increase accountability and decrease the presence of fraudulent providers.
To learn more about the Health Care Fraud Prevention and Enforcement Action Team (HEAT), go to www.stopmedicarefraud.gov.