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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Houston Federal Jury Convicts Patient Recruiter of Medicare Fraud Involving Claims of Hurricane Damage to Power Wheelchairs

To Date, Six Individuals Guilty of Federal Crimes for Roles in Scheme

WASHINGTON – Marion Beverly Metoyer, a patient recruiter for a Houston durable medical equipment (DME) company, was convicted today by a Houston federal jury of health care fraud related to a power wheelchair fraud scheme, the Departments of Justice, Health and Human Services (HHS) and the FBI announced.


After a four-day trial, Metoyer, 57, of Dayton, Texas, was convicted on one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud, three counts of health care fraud, one count of conspiring to receive illegal kickbacks for referring Medicare beneficiaries, and two counts of receiving illegal kickbacks for referring Medicare beneficiaries. 


According to evidence presented at trial, Helen Etinfoh was the owner and operator of Luant & Odera Inc., a Houston-area DME company doing business as Tonni Medical Equipment & Supplies. Metoyer was a recruiter for Luant who was paid kickbacks in exchange for providing the company with beneficiaries in whose names bills could be submitted to Medicare. Etinfoh and other co-conspirators submitted false and fraudulent claims to Medicare for medically unnecessary DME, including power wheelchairs, wheelchair accessories and motorized scooters.


Evidence at trial showed that, based on representations from Metoyer and other recruiters, Luant would bill Medicare under a special code that designated the power wheelchairs as replacements for wheelchairs lost during hurricanes that hit the Houston area in fall 2008. In fact, the hurricanes did not damage the wheelchairs. Certain beneficiaries testified that they did not even have a power wheelchair before receiving the ones provided to them by Luant. Luant used the hurricane code because it allowed the company to submit claims to Medicare without a doctor’s order.


At trial, beneficiaries in whose names claims were submitted to Medicare testified that recruiters whom they had never met, including Metoyer, came to their homes and offered them free power wheelchairs in exchange for their Medicare information. The power wheelchairs were often billed to Medicare at more than $6,000 per chair.


Etinfoh was previously convicted by a federal jury of health care fraud in April 2010, and was sentenced to 41 months in prison. Paula Whitfield, a patient recruiter for Luant, was also convicted by a federal jury in April 2010, and was sentenced to 21 months in prison. Melvin Barnes, Johnnie Lee Andrews and Monica Rene Perry, each a patient recruiter for Luant, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit health care fraud and await sentencing.


At sentencing, Metoyer faces maximum penalties of 10 years in prison for the health care fraud conspiracy; 10 years in prison for committing health care fraud; five years in prison for conspiring to receive illegal kickbacks for referring Medicare beneficiaries; and five years in prison for receiving an illegal kickback for referring a Medicare beneficiary. A sentencing date has not been set.


Today’s guilty jury verdict was announced by Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Criminal Division; U.S. Attorney José Angel Moreno of the Southern District of Texas; Acting Special Agent-In-Charge Russell D. Robinson of the FBI’s Houston Field Office; Special Agent-in-Charge Mike Fields of the Dallas Regional Office of HHS’s Office of the Inspector General (HHS-OIG), Office of Investigations; and the Texas Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit (MFCU).


The case was tried by Trial Attorney Laura Cordova and Assistant Chief Sam S. Sheldon of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section. The case was brought as part of the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, supervised by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas and the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section.


Since their inception in March 2007, Strike Force operations in nine locations have obtained indictments of 1,000 individuals who collectively have falsely billed the Medicare program for more than $2.3 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.


To learn more about the Health Care Fraud Prevention and Enforcement Action Team (HEAT), go to: www.stopmedicarefraud.gov .

Press Release Number: 
Updated September 15, 2014