The Justice Department Announces Nationwide Coordinated Law Enforcement Action to Combat COVID-19 Health Care Fraud
For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Western District of Louisiana
Local case from Western District of Louisiana Charges Gibsland, Louisiana Woman
SHREVEPORT, La. - United States Attorney Brandon B. Brown joins with the Department of Justice in announcing criminal charges against 18 defendants in 9 federal districts across the United States for their alleged participation in various fraud schemes involving health care services that exploited the COVID-19 pandemic and allegedly resulted in over $490 million in COVID-19 related false billings to federal programs and theft from federally-funded pandemic programs.
In connection with the enforcement action, the department seized over $16 million in cash and other fraud proceeds. The Center for Program Integrity of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CPI/CMS) separately announced today that it took adverse administrative actions in the last year against an additional 28 medical providers for their alleged involvement in COVID-19 schemes.
U.S. Attorney Brown announced that Shaquaila Lewis, a/k/a Shaquaila Lewis-Chatman, 35, of Gibsland, Louisiana, was charged in the Western District of Louisiana by indictment with wire fraud and money laundering in connection with an alleged scheme to fraudulently obtain over $1.1 million in funds under the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL), which were low-interest financing to small businesses, renters and homeowners in regions affected by declared disasters. According to the indictment, Lewis, a registered nurse, caused the submission of numerous fraudulent loan applications that contained false statements regarding a purported business and the intended use of the loan funds. The funds were allegedly used for personal expenses, such as gambling and contracting work on her home. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant Chief Justin M. Woodard of the Gulf Coast Strike Force and Assistant U.S. Attorney Seth D. Reeg of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Louisiana.
“The COVID-19 pandemic brought hardships to many American citizens and those who have chosen to abuse the assistance that was provided is appalling,” said U.S. Attorney Brown. “We will continue to join with our federal and state and local partners to investigate and prosecute any who may have defrauded the government through these programs that were offered to help people.”
“The Justice Department will not tolerate those who exploited the pandemic for personal gain and stole taxpayer dollars,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. “This unprecedented enforcement action against defendants across the country makes clear that the Department is using every available resource to combat and prevent COVID-19 related fraud and safeguard the integrity of taxpayer-funded programs.”
“Today’s announcement marks the largest-ever coordinated law enforcement action in the United States targeting health care fraud schemes that exploit the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite, Jr. “The Criminal Division’s Health Care Fraud Unit and our partners are committed to putting an end to pandemic-related fraud and holding accountable anyone seeking to profit from a public health emergency.”
The announcement today builds on the successes of the April 2022 COVID-19 Enforcement Action and the May 2021 COVID-19 Enforcement Action and involves the prosecution of various COVID-19 health care fraud schemes. In one of the most significant types of COVID-19 health care fraud scheme announced today, multiple defendants were charged with defrauding the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) COVID-19 Uninsured Program.
The announcement also includes first-of-its-kind charges against suppliers of COVID-19 over-the-counter tests, which Medicare began to cover in April 2022 for beneficiaries who requested the tests. These kits were provided to the public to slow the spread of a deadly disease, but wrongdoers allegedly sought to exploit the program by repeatedly supplying patients, or, in some instances, deceased patients, with dozens of COVID-19 tests that they did not want or need.
Charges were also brought under the Health Care Fraud Unit’s Provider Relief Fund (PRF) Initiative. The PRF is part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, a federal law enacted in March 2020 that provided financial assistance to medical providers to provide needed medical care to Americans suffering from COVID-19.
Today’s enforcement action was led and coordinated by Assistant Chiefs Justin M. Woodard and Debra Jaroslawicz and Trial Attorney D. Keith Clouser of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section. The Health Care Fraud Unit’s Strike Forces in Brooklyn, the Gulf Coast, Los Angeles, and Tampa; the National Rapid Response Strike Force; and the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices for the Central District of California, Middle District of Florida, Eastern District of Louisiana, Middle District of Louisiana, Western District of Louisiana, Eastern District of New York, District of Puerto Rico, District of Utah, and Western District of Washington are prosecuting these cases, with assistance from the Health Care Fraud Unit’s Data Analytics Team. Descriptions of each case involved in today’s enforcement action are available on the department’s website at www.justice.gov/criminal-fraud/health-care-fraud-unit/2023-case-summaries.
Other agencies involved are the FBI and HHS-OIG, the Small Business Administration Office of Inspector General, Defense Criminal Investigative Service, Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation, Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, Homeland Security Investigations, Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General, Department of Defense Office of Inspector General, AMTRAK Office of Inspector General, California Department of Health Care Services, and other federal and state law enforcement agencies across the nation.
The Health Care Fraud Strike Force is part of a joint initiative between the Department of Justice and HHS to prevent and deter health care fraud and enforce current anti-fraud laws around the country. In the past three years, the Health Care Fraud Strike Force has rooted out health care fraud related to the COVID-19 pandemic. To date, 53 defendants have been charged in nationwide COVID-19 Health Care Fraud Enforcement Actions for causing over $784 million in loss associated with the pandemic, and 20 defendants have been convicted.
On May 17, 2021, the Attorney General established the COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Task Force to marshal the resources of the Department of Justice in partnership with agencies across government to enhance efforts to combat and prevent pandemic-related fraud. The Task Force bolsters efforts to investigate and prosecute the most culpable domestic and international criminal actors and assists agencies tasked with administering relief programs to prevent fraud by, among other methods, augmenting and incorporating existing coordination mechanisms, identifying resources and techniques to uncover fraudulent actors and their schemes, and sharing and harnessing information and insights gained from prior enforcement efforts. For more information on the department’s response to the pandemic, please visit https://www.justice.gov/coronavirus.
The Department of Justice needs the public’s assistance in remaining vigilant and reporting suspected fraudulent activity. To report suspected fraud, contact the National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) at (866) 720-5721 or file an online complaint at: https://www.justice.gov/disaster-fraud/webform/ncdf-disaster-complaint-form. Complaints filed will be reviewed at the NCDF and referred to federal, state, local, or international law enforcement or regulatory agencies for investigation.
An indictment, complaint, or information is merely an allegation, and all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.
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Updated April 20, 2023
Health Care Fraud