Justice Dept. charges 21 people, including Utah woman, over COVID-19-related fraud schemes

Among charges announced Wednesday by the Justice Department involve schemes were people's medical information was taken from COVID-19 testing sites and used to purchase unnecessary medical procedures. File Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI

April 21 (UPI) — Federal prosecutors have charged nearly two dozen people involved in the medical profession, including a Utah woman, with running various fraud schemes to exploit the COVID-19 pandemic of tens of millions of dollars.

The crackdown netted charges against 21 people for conducting various grifts that saw more than $149 million in false COVID-19-related billings to federal programs, officials said.

“While millions of Americans were suffering and desperately seeking testing and treatment for COVID-19, some saw an opportunity to profit, by committing alleged frauds, laundering taxpayer dollars through shell companies and buying luxury goods and lavish homes,” Kenneth Polite Jr., the assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, said in a video message.


Schemes ranged from making and selling vaccination cards to misusing patient information collected at COVID-19 test sites to bill for other medically unnecessary procedures.

In Utah, Linda Tufui Toli, 28, was an employee at a pre-flight COVID-19 testing center at the Salt Lake City International Airport terminal and is accused of selling negative test results to customers prior to take off.

The largest scheme involved Imran Shams and Lourdes Navarro from Glendale, Calif.

Prosecutors accused the pair of 63-year-old owners of a medical laboratory of defrauding Medicare of more than $214 million for tests, including nearly $144 in false COVID-19 claims.

The indictment states that Shams has been excluded from participating in Medicare programs for several decades due to a prior conviction, but the defendants concealed his role in the lab while also paying kickbacks to marketers who obtained specimens and test orders.

The money was then laundered through shell companies Navarro controlled to purchase real estate and luxury goods, prosecutors alleged in the court document.

Among those also charged Wednesday are three people connected to Juli Mazi, a naturopathic doctor who pleaded guilty earlier this month to selling homeopathic pellets as COVID-19 cures.

According to the prosecutors, Janson Costanza, 46, of El Campo, Texas, was the officer manager for Mazi and participated in providing customers with fraudulent U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention vaccine record cards.

Jami Jansen, 40, of Santa Cruz, Calif., acted as a distributor for Mazi and is accused of purchasing and repackaging the homeopathic pellets and fake vaccine cards for some 170 customers.

Prosecutors also charged Ranna Shamiya, 41, of Ukiah, Calif., with aiding her fake CDC vaccine card scheme.

The indictment states that Shamiya, the director of a pharmacy at a California hospital, used her privilege access at the facility to harvest legitimate lot numbers for FDA-authorized COVID-19 vaccines and transmit them to Mazi to be used to create the fake vaccination records.

In Miami, Fla., Elizabeth Mercedes Hernandez, 43, is accused of making more than $134 million in false claims to Medicare. Prosecutors accused the registered nurse practitioner of signing “an enormous volume” of doctor’s orders for unnecessary genetic testing and durable medical equipment in exchange for sham tele-health consultation fees.

The enforcement action on Wednesday builds from last year’s crackdown that resulted in charges brought against 14 people for running COVID-19 schemes that saw more than $143 million in false Medicare billings.


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