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DOJ charges nearly 200 people in $2.7 billion health care fraud schemes crackdown

WASHINGTON — Nearly 200 people have been charged in a massive nationwide crackdown on health care fraud involving false claims worth more than $2.7 billion. the Ministry of Justice he said on Thursday.

Attorney General Merrick Garland announced charges against doctors, nurses and others in the US accused of various frauds, including a $900 million scheme in Arizona that targeted dying patients.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re a trafficker in a drug cartel, or a corporate executive or a medical professional employed by a health care company,” Garland told reporters. “If you profit from the unlawful distribution of controlled substances, you will be held accountable.”

In the Arizona case, prosecutors accuse two wound care company owners of taking more than $330 million in bribes as part of a scheme to fraudulently bill Medicare for amniotic fluid transplants, dressings that help wounds heal.

Nurse practitioners were pressured to use the wound grafts on elderly patients who did not need them, including people in palliative care, the Justice Department said. Some patients died the day they received the grafts or within days, the court documents said.

Prosecutors say more than $900 million in false claims were submitted to Medicare in less than two years for transplants used in fewer than 500 patients.

The owners of the wound care companies, Alexandra Gehrke and Jeffrey King, were arrested this month at Phoenix International Airport as they boarded a flight to London, according to court documents calling on a judge to keep them behind bars while they await trial. An attorney for Gehrke declined to comment, and an attorney for King did not immediately respond to an email from The Associated Press.

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Authorities allege that Gehrke and King, who married this year, knew charges were coming and prepared to flee. At their home, authorities found a book titled “How to Disappear: Erase Your Digital Footprint, Leave False Trails, and Disappear Without a Trace,” according to court papers. In one of their suitcases packed for their flight was a book titled “Criminal Law Handbook: Know Your Rights, Survive the System,” the papers say.

Gehrke and King lived lavishly from the scheme, prosecutors allege, citing luxury cars, a nearly $6 million home and more than $520,000 in gold bars, coins and jewelry. Officials seized more than $52 million from Gehrke’s personal and business bank accounts after her arrest, prosecutors say.

A total of 193 people — including 76 doctors, nurses and other licensed medical professionals — were charged in a series of separate cases that spanned about two weeks during the nationwide health care fraud crackdown. Authorities seized more than $230 million in cash, luxury cars and other assets. The Department of Justice periodically conducts these sweeping health care fraud efforts to deter other potential offenders.

In another scheme, targeting Native Americans, fake sober living homes were set up that promised addiction treatment. Claims were then filed for services that were never actually performed, officials said.

Another case involves a scheme in Florida to distribute misbranded HIV drugs. Prosecutors say drugs were bought on the black market and resold to unsuspecting pharmacies, which then supplied the drugs to patients.

Some patients were given bottles of medications other than those listed on the label. One patient was knocked unconscious for 24 hours after taking what he thought was his HIV medication, but was actually an antipsychotic, prosecutors say.

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Follow AP’s coverage of the U.S. Department of Justice on https://apnews.com/hub/us-department-of-justice.

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