Joon H. Kim, the Acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Scott Lampert, Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General’s (“HHS-OIG”) New York Region, announced today that the United States has settled its claims brought under the False Claims Act against NARCO FREEDOM, INC. (“NARCO FREEDOM”), a former operator of outpatient chemical dependency clinics, and separately has settled its claims against JOINING HANDS MANAGEMENT INC. (“JOINING HANDS”), an operator of short-term residences known as “three-quarter houses,” and DEVORAH HAIGLER, co-owner of JOINING HANDS. The consent orders were approved yesterday by U.S. District Judge John G. Koeltl. Pursuant to the settlement, the three defendants admit and accept responsibility for conduct alleged in the Government’s complaint-in-intervention, the United States will receive a $50.5 million allowed claim in the Narco Freedom bankruptcy proceeding, and Joining Hands and Haigler will pay $300,000 to the United States and the State of New York, the federal portion of which is $141,180.
Acting U.S. Attorney Joon H. Kim said: “Narco Freedom not only defrauded Medicaid, it also victimized vulnerable low-income patients who were attempting to recover from drug and alcohol addictions. Particularly in light of the opioid epidemic ravaging our communities, we will act aggressively to stop such abusive conduct.”
HHS-OIG Special Agent in Charge Scott J. Lampert said: “This settlement puts an end to a greed-fueled scheme that callously compromised patient care and took advantage of an extremely vulnerable population. Health providers engaging in such behaviors should contemplate facing Narco Freedom’s fate – exclusion from all government health programs.”
The complaint-in-intervention filed by the United States alleged three separate fraud schemes. First, the complaint alleged that NARCO FREEDOM, JOINING HANDS, HAIGLER, and others were engaged in a kickback scheme, whereby NARCO FREEDOM made monthly cash payments to JOINING HANDS in exchange for HAIGLER and others referring residents of JOINING HANDS’ three-quarter houses, almost all of whom were Medicaid recipients, to NARCO FREEDOM outpatient programs and enforcing attendance at those programs, for which NARCO FREEDOM billed Medicaid. Second, the complaint alleged that NARCO FREEDOM and others were engaged in a kickback scheme whereby NARCO FREEDOM provided below-cost housing in its own three-quarter houses, known as “Freedom Houses,” to induce residents of those houses to enroll in and attend NARCO FREEDOM’s outpatient programs, and then evicted the residents as soon as NARCO FREEDOM had collected the maximum available Medicaid funds. Both schemes exploited vulnerable individuals who were forced to comply with NARCO FREEDOM’s rules because they lacked stable housing options. Third, the complaint alleged that NARCO FREEDOM and others directed and paid employees of its outpatient program in Red Hook, Brooklyn, to create false treatment records for certain patients and to backdate records.
As part of the NARCO FREEDOM settlement, NARCO FREEDOM, which is currently in Chapter 7 bankruptcy, has agreed (through the Chapter 7 Trustee) that the United States has a general unsecured claim for damages in the amount of $50,509,440, which will be paid through the bankruptcy proceeding on a pro rata basis with other general unsecured creditors. As additional terms of the settlement, NARCO FREEDOM will be excluded from all federal health care programs for 50 years, and the Chapter 7 Trustee will take steps to dissolve NARCO FREEDOM. NARCO FREEDOM, through the Chapter 7 Trustee, also has admitted, acknowledged, and accepted responsibility for the following conduct:
Between 2006 and 2014, NARCO FREEDOM operated short-term residences known as “Freedom Houses.” As a condition of residence at the Freedom Houses, NARCO FREEDOM required residents to enroll in and attend a NARCO FREEDOM outpatient program. One purpose of the Freedom Houses was to induce Medicaid recipients to use NARCO FREEDOM’s outpatient programs by providing those individuals with subsidized housing.
Between 2008 and 2011, NARCO FREEDOM made monthly payments to operators of three-quarter houses pursuant to purported “lease agreements” executed by NARCO FREEDOM, but these payments were not actually part of a legitimate lease arrangement, and instead were paid to incentivize the operators to require the residents of their houses to attend NARCO FREEDOM outpatient programs.
In 2010, NARCO FREEDOM directed and paid counselors employed in its outpatient treatment programs in Red Hook, Brooklyn, to perform “corrective action and maintenance” on patient records, which included creating records reflecting that counselors had treated certain patients that the counselors had not in fact treated; claims based upon these false records were submitted to and paid by Medicaid.
NARCO FREEDOM’s conduct also was the subject of a lawsuit brought by this Office in October of 2014, United States v. Narco Freedom, Inc., 14 Civ. 8593 (JGK), in which the United States obtained a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction enjoining NARCO FREEDOM from using the Freedom Houses to induce people to enroll in outpatient treatment programs. That suit ultimately resulted in the Court appointing a temporary receiver who oversaw the transition of NARCO FREEDOM’s clinics and Freedom Houses to other health care providers.
As part of the JOINING HANDS and HAIGLER settlement, they must pay a total of $300,000 to resolve the United States’ claims along with related claims asserted by the State of New York, of which the federal portion is $141,180. JOINING HANDS and HAIGLER also are enjoined from making or receiving payments of any kind in exchange for referrals or recommendations for any medical care or service, and from requiring residents to provide information relating to enrollment or attendance at an outpatient program.
JOINING HANDS and HAIGLER also admitted, acknowledged, and accepted responsibility for conduct alleged in the Government’s complaint, including the following:
In 2008, JOINING HANDS and NARCO FREEDOM reached an agreement whereby NARCO FREEDOM would make monthly payments to JOINING HANDS and in exchange, JOINING HANDS would refer individuals residing in its three-quarter houses to NARCO FREEDOM outpatient programs.
HAIGLER was aware of, and consented to, this agreement.
Between 2008 and 2011, pursuant to this agreement and subsequent agreements, NARCO FREEDOM made monthly payments to JOINING HANDS, in amounts ranging from $4,000 to $15,000 per month, per house.
This case arose, in part, from a complaint filed under seal by whistleblowers under the False Claims Act.
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Mr. Kim thanked HHS-OIG for its investigative efforts and ongoing support and assistance with the case.
The case is being handled by the Office’s Civil Frauds Unit. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Kirti Vaidya Reddy and Cristine Irvin Phillips are in charge of the case.