Lab Owner Pleads Guilty to $6.9 Million Genetic Testing & COVID-19 Testing Fraud Scheme
A Florida man pleaded guilty today in the Southern District of Florida to a $6.9 million conspiracy to defraud Medicare by paying kickbacks and bribes to obtain doctors’ orders for medically unnecessary lab tests that were then billed to Medicare. The defendant exploited the COVID-19 pandemic by bundling COVID-19 testing with other forms of testing that patients did not need, including genetic testing and tests for rare respiratory pathogens.
According to court documents, Christopher Licata, 45, of Delray Beach, admitted that, as owner of Boca Toxicology LLC (dba Lab Dynamics), he bribed patient brokers who would refer Medicare beneficiaries and doctors’ orders authorizing medically unnecessary genetic testing to Licata’s laboratory. Licata and these patient brokers entered into sham agreements to disguise the true purpose of these payments. Once the COVID-19 pandemic began, Licata exploited patients’ fears of COVID-19 by bundling COVID-19 tests with more expensive, medically unnecessary testing, including respiratory pathogen panel testing and, at times, genetic testing for cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes, obesity, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and dementia. In total, Licata caused his laboratory to submit over $6.9 million in false and fraudulent claims to Medicare for these medically unnecessary tests.
Licata pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to commit health care fraud. He is scheduled to be sentenced on March 24 and faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division; Special Agent in Charge George L. Piro of the FBI’s Miami Field Office; and Special Agent in Charge Omar Pérez Aybar of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General (HHS-OIG) made the announcement.
The FBI’s Miami Field Office and HHS-OIG are investigating the case.
Trial Attorneys Jamie de Boer and Dermot Lynch of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section are prosecuting the case.
In May 2021, the Attorney General established the COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Task Force to marshal the resources of the department in partnership with agencies across government to enhance efforts to combat and prevent pandemic-related fraud. The Task Force bolsters efforts to investigate and prosecute the most culpable domestic and international criminal actors and assists agencies tasked with administering relief programs to prevent fraud by, among other methods, augmenting and incorporating existing coordination mechanisms, identifying resources and techniques to uncover fraudulent actors and their schemes, and sharing and harnessing information and insights gained from prior enforcement efforts. For more information on the department’s response to the pandemic, please visit https://www.justice.gov/coronavirus.
The Fraud Section leads the Health Care Fraud Strike Force. Since its inception in March 2007, the Health Care Fraud Strike Force, which maintains 15 strike forces operating in 24 federal districts, has charged more than 4,600 defendants who have collectively billed federal health care programs and private insurers for approximately $23 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.
Anyone with information about allegations of attempted fraud involving COVID-19 can report it by calling the Department of Justice’s National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) Hotline at 866-720-5721 or via the NCDF Web Complaint Form at https://www.justice.gov/disaster-fraud/ncdf-disaster-complaint-form.