Pasadena Doctor Sentenced to 4 Years in Prison for Falsely Certifying Patients Were Terminally Ill as Part of Healthcare Fraud Scheme
LOS ANGELES – A doctor from Pasadena who falsely certified that at least 79 Medicare and Medi-Cal patients were qualified for hospice care because they were terminally ill – when, in fact, the vast majority of them were not dying – has been sentenced to four years in federal prison.
Boyao Huang, 43, was sentenced on Monday by United States District Judge S. James Otero. In addition to the prison term, Judge Otero ordered Huang to pay $1,344,204 in restitution.
At the conclusion of a two-week trial in May, Huang was found guilty of four counts of health care fraud for participating in a scheme related to the Covina-based California Hospice Care (CHC). Between March 2009 and June 2013, CHC submitted approximately $8.8 million in fraudulent bills to Medicare and Medi-Cal for hospice-related services, and the public health programs paid nearly $7.4 million to CHC.
A second doctor who was convicted at trial – Sri Wijegoonaratna, known as Dr. J., 61, of Anaheim, who was found guilty of seven counts of health care fraud – is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Otero on February 13, 2017.
“This scheme preyed upon dozens of patients and their families who were led to believe that their worst nightmare had come true – that they had life-ending illnesses,” said United States Attorney Eileen M. Decker. “Criminals such as the defendants in this case who steal from taxpayers by defrauding the Medicare system and who victimize vulnerable individuals like medical patients deserve significant prison sentences.”
In addition to the two doctors, eight other defendants were charged in the scheme and have pleaded guilty to health care fraud charges. Those other defendants include a Placentia woman who purchased CHC in 2007 and operated the facility after being charged and incarcerated in another health care fraud scheme. Priscilla Villabroza, 70, who pleaded guilty in December 2015 to one count of health care fraud, was sentenced in June to eight years in federal prison.
As part of the CHC fraud scheme, Villabroza and her daughter – who was the nominal owner while Villabroza was in custody – paid patient recruiters known as “marketers” or “cappers” to bring in Medicare and Medi-Cal beneficiaries. CHC nurses performed “assessments” to determine whether the beneficiaries were terminally ill and, regardless of the outcome, Wijegoonaratna and Huang certified that the beneficiaries were terminally ill – even though the vast majority of them were not dying. CHC personnel altered medical records in response to Medicare audits to make the beneficiaries appear sicker.
By the time the scheme was shut down in June 2013, Medicare and Medi-Cal had paid millions of dollars for medically unnecessary hospice-related services.
The investigation into California Hospice was conducted by the United States Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General; the Federal Bureau of Investigation; the California Bureau of Medi-Cal Fraud & Elder Abuse; and IRS Criminal Investigation.
This case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Steven M. Arkow of the Major Frauds Section and Assistant United States Attorney Leon W. Weidman, Special Counsel to the United States Attorney.