Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice (DOJ) and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced on December 15, 2009 the expansion of Medicare Fraud Strike Force teams to Baton Rouge, Brooklyn, Tampa in the fifth, sixth and seventh phases of a targeted criminal, civil and administrative effort against individuals and health care companies that fraudulently bill the Medicare program.
The joint DOJ-HHS Medicare Fraud Strike Force is a multi-agency team of federal, state and local investigators designed to combat Medicare fraud through the use of Medicare data analysis techniques and an increased focus on community policing. After expanding to Baton Rouge, Tampa and Brooklyn, Strike Force teams will be operating in seven cities in the United States: Miami, Los Angeles, Detroit, Houston, Brooklyn, Tampa and Baton Rouge.
Since the inception of Strike Force operations in March 2007 – Miami (Phase One), Los Angeles (Phase Two), Detroit (Phase Three), Houston (Phase Four), and Brooklyn (Phase Five) – the Strike Force has obtained indictments of more than 460 individuals and organizations that collectively have falsely billed the Medicare program for more than one billion dollars. In addition, HHS’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, working in conjunction with the HHS-OIG, is taking steps to increase accountability and decrease the presence of fraudulent providers.
During the announcement of the expansion to these three cities, the DOJ also commented on five indictments that were unsealed on December 15th in Miami, Detroit and Brooklyn, following the arrests of twenty-five individuals in Miami, four individuals in Detroit and one in Brooklyn. In addition, Strike Force agents also executed four search warrants at businesses and homes in Coconut Creek, Fla.; Miami and Brooklyn.
The DOJ press announcement also noted that individuals charged in the indictments that were unsealed were accused of various Medicare fraud crimes, including conspiracy to defraud the Medicare program, conspiracy to launder money, money laundering, criminal false claims, making false statements and receiving kickbacks.
According to the DOJ’s charging documents, the defendants participated in schemes to submit claims to Medicare for products and services that were in fact medically unnecessary and oftentimes, never provided. In the Detroit cases, defendants are alleged to have participated in a scheme whereby they paid pay kickbacks to patients who received instructions from the clinic owners and patient recruiters to feign symptoms to justify expensive testing, including nerve conduction studies. In Brooklyn, the two defendants are alleged to have billed Medicare for durable medical equipment, including expensive shoe inserts reserved for diabetes patients, when in fact much cheaper and over-the-counter shoe inserts were provided to beneficiaries who often didn’t need them. In Miami, 15 individuals, including doctors and nurses, are charged in connection with fraudulent claims to Medicare for home health services. In another case in Miami, individuals are charged for their various roles in running a medical clinic that purported to provide injection and infusion treatments to HIV/AIDS patients and submitted fraudulent claims Medicare for such services, which were often medically unnecessary and/or never provided.
Collectively, the DOJ announced that the physicians, company owners, executives and others charged in the indictments are accused of conspiring to submit approximately $61 million in false claims to the Medicare program.