Woman Indicted on Medicaid Fraud and Identity Theft Charges
RICHMOND, Va. – As part of the largest ever health care fraud enforcement action in Department of Justice History, a Richmond woman has been charged with healthcare fraud, aggravated identity theft, and making a false statement to federal agents.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Tom Price, M.D., announced today the largest ever health care fraud enforcement action by the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, involving 412 charged defendants across 41 federal districts, including 115 doctors, nurses and other licensed medical professionals, for their alleged participation in health care fraud schemes involving approximately $1.3 billion in false billings. Of those charged, over 120 defendants, including doctors, were charged for their roles in prescribing and distributing opioids and other dangerous narcotics. Thirty state Medicaid Fraud Control Units also participated in today’s arrests. In addition, HHS has initiated suspension actions against 295 providers, including doctors, nurses and pharmacists.
Chermeca Harris, 36, was arrested on Tuesday and the indictment was unsealed. Harris, a Medicaid beneficiary, would misrepresent her health condition to health care providers, such as hospitals and ambulance services, in order to obtain health care benefits. Specifically, she would falsely represent that she was suffering from sickle cell anemia and was having a sickle cell crisis in order to obtain pain killing drugs, such as dilaudid, which she wanted to receive intravenously through the neck. In fact, doctors tested Harris in January 2016, and determined she did not have sickle cell anemia. The hospitals involved were Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center, Chippenham, Bon Secours St. Mary’s, Memorial Regional, John Randolph Medical Center, and Henrico Doctor’s.
According to the indictment, it was a further part of the scheme that Harris also falsely represented her identity. On some occasions she used the name of M.M., and on other occasions she used the name of R.J.; both Medicaid recipients. She also falsely stated to investigating federal agents that her name was M.M. and that she had sickle cell anemia.
Harris has been charged with eight counts of healthcare fraud on the Medicaid program, two counts of aggravated identity theft, and one count of making a false statement to federal agents. She faces a mandatory minimum of four years in prison and a maximum penalty of 89 years in prison, if convicted. Actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after taking into account the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
Dana J. Boente, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia; Adam S. Lee, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Richmond Field Office; and Nick DiGiulio, Special Agent in Charge, Philadelphia Regional Office of Inspector General of Department of Health and Human Services, made the announcement after the arrest. Assistant U.S. Attorney David T. Maguire is prosecuting the case.
The charges announced today aggressively target schemes billing Medicare, Medicaid, and TRICARE (a health insurance program for members and veterans of the armed forces and their families) for medically unnecessary prescription drugs and compounded medications that often were never even purchased and/or distributed to beneficiaries. The charges also involve individuals contributing to the opioid epidemic, with a particular focus on medical professionals involved in the unlawful distribution of opioids and other prescription narcotics, a particular focus for the Department. According to the CDC, approximately 91 Americans die every day of an opioid related overdose.
Today’s enforcement actions were led and coordinated by the Criminal Division, Fraud Section’s Health Care Fraud Unit in conjunction with its Medicare Fraud Strike Force (MFSF) partners, a partnership between the Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney’s Offices, the FBI and HHS-OIG. In addition, the operation includes the participation of the DEA, DCIS, and State Medicaid Fraud Control Units.
The Medicare Fraud Strike Force operations are part of a joint initiative between the Department of Justice and HHS to focus their efforts to prevent and deter fraud and enforce current anti-fraud laws around the country. The Medicare Fraud Strike Force operates in nine locations nationwide. Since its inception in March 2007, the Medicare Fraud Strike Force has charged over 3500 defendants who collectively have falsely billed the Medicare program for over $12.5 billion.
A copy of this press release is located on the website of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia. Related court documents and information is located on the website of the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia or on PACER by searching for Case No. 3:17-cr-77.
An indictment contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed to be innocent until and unless proven guilty in court.