Two Novus Doctors Sentenced to Combined 23 Years in Prison for Healthcare Fraud
Two doctors who helped a local hospice agency scam Medicare were sentenced today to a combined 23 years in prison for healthcare fraud, announced U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas Chad E. Meacham.
In May, a federal jury found Novus Health Services Medical Directors Dr. Mark E. Gibbs and Dr. Laila Hirjee, along with Novus RN Tammie Little, guilty of conspiracy to commit healthcare fraud and other charges. Today, Chief U.S. District Judge Barbara M.G. Lynn sentenced Dr. Gibbs to 13 years in federal prison and ordered him to pay $27,978,903 in restitution; she sentenced Dr. Hirjee to 10 years in federal prison and ordered her to pay $16,253,281 in restitution. The judge also sentenced Ms. Little to 33 months in federal prison.
According to evidence presented at trial, the defendants helped Novus CEO Bradley Harris defraud Medicare by, among other things, illegally admitting patients who were not appropriate for hospice and submitting materially false claims for hospice services.
Mr. Harris, who pleaded guilty prior to trial, testified against his former employees.
He told the jury that instead of relying on the expertise of licensed medical professions, he and Novus nurses determined which patients would be admitted to or discharged from hospice care, as well as which drugs and dosages they would receive.
They relied upon Novus doctors, including Dr. Gibbs and Dr. Hirjee, to certify that they had examined these patients face-to-face, when no such examinations had occurred, Mr. Harris testified.
Witnesses also testified that Dr. Hirjee and Dr. Gibbs engaged in the prescription of Schedule II controlled substances, such as morphine, hydromorphone, and fentanyl, by pre-signing blank C2 prescriptions and giving those to Brad Harris and others at Novus to let them prescribe controlled substances without any physician oversight.
As Director of Operations Melanie Murphey testified on day five of trial, “I was the doctor.”
Mr. Harris and the nurses used pre-signed prescription pads, prepared by Dr. Gibbs, Dr. Hirjee, and other Novus doctors, to dispense medications like morphine to patients. When Medicare suspended payment to Novus over concerns about billing, Mr. Harris, Dr. Gibbs, and others moved patients and employees to a new hospice company and continued to bill Medicare for hospice services.
In total, Medicare and Medicaid paid the Novus entities approximately $40 million dollars for hospice services before the companies were shut down.
“These doctors allowed Bradley Harris – an accountant with no medical expertise – to dispense controlled substances like candy, with little to no medical oversight,” said U.S. Attorney Chad Meacham. “They claimed to have had hands-on experience with hospice patients, when in fact, they’d entrusted life-or-death medical decisions to untrained businesspeople. We are satisfied to know they will spend the next decade behind bars.”
“The defendants violated their Hippocratic Oath as doctors and instead focused on lining their pockets at the expense of patient safety. This case highlights the importance of thoroughly investigating any complaint of healthcare fraud,” said FBI Dallas Special Agent in Charge Matthew DeSarno. “We encourage the public to help us identify, investigate, and prosecute this crime. If you suspect health care fraud, report it to the FBI at tips.fbi.gov, 1-800-CALL-FBI, or contact your health insurance provider.”
Several of their codefendants – Novus CEO Brad Harris, his wife, Novus Vice President of Patient Services Amy Harris, Novus Director of Operations Melanie Murphy, Novus Medical Director Charles Leach, Novus Medical Director Reziuddin Siddique (deceased), Novus Vice President of Marketing Samuel Anderson, Novus Director of Marketing Slade Brown, Novus RN Jessica Love, Novus triage RN Patricia Armstrong, Novus LVN Taryn Stewart, and Ali Rizvi, the owner of a separate physician home visit company – pleaded guilty to various offenses prior to trial. Love was sentenced 102 months, Stuart was sentenced to 96 months, Armstrong was sentenced to 84 months, Dr. Leach was sentenced to 57 months, and Anderson was sentenced to 33 months. The remaining defendants are facing statutory maximums of between two and 14 years in federal prison.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Dallas Field Office, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG), and the Texas Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit conducted the investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Donna Strittmatter Max and Marty Basu are prosecuting the case with Assistant U.S. Attorneys Stephen Gilstrap, Gail Hayworth, and Brian McKay.