Manhattan U.S. Attorney Sues Narco Freedom And Certain Of Its Former Executives And Business Associates For Engaging In A Series Of Fraudulent Schemes
Preet Bharara, the 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 filed a complaint alleging violations of the False Claims Act by NARCO FREEDOM, INC. (“NARCO FREEDOM”), a former operator of outpatient chemical dependency clinics, ALAN BRAND, former CEO of NARCO FREEDOM, GERALD BETHEA, former CEO and program director of NARCO FREEDOM, JOINING HANDS MANAGEMENT INC. (“JOINING HANDS”), a former business associate of NARCO FREEDOM and operator of short-term residences known as “three-quarter houses,” and BERNARD RORIE and DEVORAH HAIGLER, co-owners of JOINING HANDS. The complaint alleges that each of the defendants engaged in one or more fraudulent schemes that caused Medicaid to be billed for services in NARCO FREEDOM’s outpatient programs that were premised upon illegal kickbacks, or that were based on false and fraudulent medical records.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said: “Having already disrupted Narco Freedom’s fraud and taken steps to protect hundreds whose housing was put at risk by kickbacks, we now bring this follow-on action to recover the funds fraudulently taken from federal healthcare programs and to hold alleged wrongdoers accountable.”
HHS-OIG Special Agent in Charge Scott Lampert said: “The allegations in this complaint continue to underscore the damage that greed does to our nation’s health care system and the tax payers who help fund it. HHS-OIG will continue to ensure that substance abuse providers are held accountable for the way they do business, so the services utilized by the vulnerable individuals that need them are delivered in an honest and appropriate manner.”
The complaint, filed today in Manhattan federal court, alleges three separate fraudulent schemes. In the first scheme, NARCO FREEDOM, BRAND, and BETHEA are alleged to have provided kickbacks in the form of below-cost housing in NARCO FREEDOM’s three-quarter houses, known as “Freedom Houses,” to induce residents of those houses to enroll in and attend NARCO FREEDOM’s outpatient programs. The scheme exploited vulnerable individuals who were forced to comply with NARCO FREEDOM’s rules because they lacked stable housing options. This scheme 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’s conduct. The injunction was granted based on the Government’s preliminary showing of ongoing violations of the Anti-Kickback Statute and ultimately resulted in a Court order that protected the hundreds of Freedom House residents by transferring management of the Freedom Houses away from NARCO FREEDOM to other providers.
The complaint also alleges a second illegal kickback scheme, whereby NARCO FREEDOM paid JOINING HANDS and RORIE in exchange for RORIE and HAIGLER referring residents of JOINING HANDS three-quarter houses to NARCO FREEDOM outpatient programs and enforcing attendance at those programs.
The complaint alleges a third scheme in which NARCO FREEDOM and BETHEA directed and paid employees of NARCO FREEDOM’s outpatient program in Red Hook, Brooklyn, to create false medical records for patients despite the fact that those employees had not treated the patients, and to create and backdate records for services allegedly provided months or years earlier.
According to the complaint, the defendants have subjected HHS to tens of millions of dollars in losses in Medicaid funds paid as a result of the fraudulent kickback schemes.
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Mr. Bharara 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.