WASHINGTON – The federal government’s Medicare Fraud Task Force brought criminal charges Thursday against doctors, nurses and health-care company executives – in all, 111 people in nine cities – in what was billed as the nation’s “largest-ever federal health-care fraud takedown.”
The defendants, including five in Los Angeles and 11 in Chicago, allegedly cheated the government out of more than $225 million in false billing schemes that included fraudulent claims, kickback operations, money laundering and identity theft.
The sweep of arrests was so massive that it took more than 700 federal agents from the FBI and the Department of Health and Human Services to round up the suspects, plus serve an additional 16 search warrants around the country in connection with ongoing strike force investigations.
“Our message is clear,” said Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Department of Justice’s Criminal Division. “We are determined to put Medicare fraudsters out of business.”
The task force was launched in March 2007, and since then 990 people have been charged in false billing schemes totaling more than $2.3 billion, with nearly 750 of them already convicted in court. In addition, in 2010 alone the joint federal, state and local task force recovered an additional $4 billion in fines and other restitution payments on behalf of taxpayers that had been lost to corruption.
Those charged on Thursday run the gamut of offenses. Some submitted claims to Medicare for treatments that were medically unnecessarily or never provided. Some recruited patients for hospitals and doctor’s offices, and then pocketed lucrative cash kickbacks.
Others set up phony schemes involving home health care, physical and occupational therapy, nerve conduction tests and prescription medicine. In one case, a podiatrist in Detroit allegedly billed the government for removing toenails that were never removed.