The owners and operators of several Miami home health care agencies as well as three patient recruiters pleaded guilty this week in connection with health care fraud schemes involving three home health care companies.
Roberto Marrero, 60, Sandra Fernandez Viera, 49, Enrique Rodriguez, 59, Elizabeth Monteagudo, 33, and Cristobal Gonzalez, 39, all of Miami, pleaded guilty before U.S. Magistrate Judges in the Southern District of Florida to conspiracy to commit health care fraud and conspiracy to receive and pay health care kickbacks. Monteagudo also pleaded guilty to receipt of kickbacks in connection with a federal health care program.
Marrero and Fernandez Viera were owners and operators of Trust Care, a Miami home health care agency that purported to provide home health and physical therapy services to Medicare beneficiaries. Rodriguez worked as a patient recruiter on behalf of Trust Care and Marrero and Fernandez Viera.
According to court documents, Marrero and Fernandez Viera operated Trust Care for the purpose of billing the Medicare Program for, among other things, expensive physical therapy and home health care services that were not medically necessary and/or were not provided.
Marrero largely controlled Trust Care and, in light of that role, oversaw the schemes operating out of the company. Fernandez Viera’s primary role, among others, involved managing and supervising personnel at Trust Care. Both Marrero and Fernandez Viera were responsible for negotiating and paying kickbacks and bribes, interacting with patient recruiters, and coordinating and overseeing the submission of fraudulent claims submitted to the Medicare program.
Marrero, Fernandez Viera and their co-conspirators paid kickbacks and bribes to patient recruiters, including Rodriguez, in return for the recruiters providing patients to Trust Care for home health and therapy services that were medically unnecessary and/or not provided. Marrero, Fernandez Viera and their co-conspirators at Trust Care also paid kickbacks and bribes to co-conspirators in doctors’ offices and clinics in exchange for home health and therapy prescriptions, medical certifications and other documentation. Marrero, Fernandez Viera and their co-conspirators used these prescriptions, medical certifications and other documentation to fraudulently bill the Medicare program for home health care services, which Marrero and Fernandez Viera knew was in violation of federal criminal laws.
Rodriguez offered and paid kickbacks and bribes to Medicare beneficiaries in return for those beneficiaries allowing Trust Care to bill Medicare for services that were medically unnecessary and/or not provided. Rodriguez solicited and received kickbacks and bribes from the owners and operators of Trust Care, including Marrero and Fernandez Viera, in return for his patient recruiting. Rodriguez knew that in many instances the patients he recruited for Trust Care did not qualify for the services billed to Medicare.
From approximately March 2007 through at least October 2010, Trust Care submitted more than $20 million in claims for home health services. Medicare paid Trust Care more than $15 million for these fraudulent claims.
Marrero, Fernandez Viera and Rodriguez also acknowledged their involvement in similar fraudulent schemes at several other Miami health care agencies in addition to Trust Care with estimated total losses of approximately $50 million, including Global Nursing Home Health Inc., Lovable Home Health Services Corp., New Concepts In Health Inc., Ubieta Health System Inc., R&M Health Care Inc., Vital Care Home Health Services Inc., Centrum Home Health Care Inc. and A&B Health Services Inc.
At sentencing, scheduled for Nov. 12, 2013, the defendants face a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison for conspiracy to commit health care fraud and five years in prison for conspiracy to receive and pay health care kickbacks.
Monteagudo and Gonzalez were patient recruiters who worked for Caring Nurse Home Health Care Corp., and Gonzalez also worked for Good Quality Home Health Care, Inc. Caring Nurse and Good Quality were Miami home health care agencies that purported to provide home health and therapy services to Medicare beneficiaries.
According to court documents, from approximately January 2009 through approximately June 2011, Monteagudo and Gonzalez would recruit patients for Caring Nurse and/or Good Quality and would solicit and receive kickbacks and bribes from the owners and operators of Caring Nurse and/or Good Quality in return for allowing the agency to bill the Medicare program on behalf of the recruited patients. These Medicare beneficiaries were billed for home health care and therapy services that were medically unnecessary and/or not provided.
Monteagudo also admitted to her involvement with $7 million in fraudulent billings for Starlite Home Health Agency Inc., which she owned and operated.
In a related case, on Feb. 27, 2013, Rogelio Rodriguez and Raymond Aday, the owners and operators of Caring Nurse and Good Quality, were sentenced to serve 108 and 51 months in prison, respectively. Their sentencings followed their December 2012 guilty pleas each to one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud charged in an October 2012 indictment, which charged that from approximately January 2006 through June 2011, Caring Nurse and Good Quality submitted approximately $48 million in claims for home health services that were not medically necessary and/or not provided. Medicare actually paid approximately $33 million for these fraudulent claims.
Both cases were investigated by the FBI and HHS-OIG and were brought as part of the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, under supervision of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida.
Since their inception in March 2007, Medicare Fraud Strike Force operations in nine locations have charged more than 1,500 defendants who collectively have falsely billed the Medicare program for more than $5 billion. In addition, the HHS Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, working in conjunction with the HHS-OIG, are taking steps to increase accountability and decrease the presence of fraudulent providers.
HCAF strongly condemns these individuals and supports the removal of bad actors from the home health industry.
To learn more about the Health Care Fraud Prevention and Enforcement Action Team (HEAT), go to: http://www.stopmedicarefraud.gov.