April 9 (UPI) — Twenty-four people were charged in a healthcare fraud scheme that targeted the elderly and disabled, and included more than $1.2 billion in losses, the Justice Department said Tuesday.
The alleged scheme involved durable medical equipment companies paying “illegal kickbacks and bribes” in exchange for beneficiary referrals from medical professionals working with fraudulent telemedicine companies to fraudulently bill Medicare, the Justice Department said in a statement.
The fraudulent telemedicine companies lured hundreds of thousands of elderly and disabled patients for back, shoulder and knee braces that were not medically necessary, the Justice Department said. The telemarketing network included call centers in the Philippines and Latin America, prosecutors said.
An investigation, which involved more than 80 search warrants across 17 federal districts, resulted in charges against 24 individuals, including officers linked to five telemedicine companies and dozens of durable medical equipment companies, as well as three licensed medical professionals. the Justice Department said.
“These defendants — who range from corporate executives to medical professionals — allegedly participated in an expansive and sophisticated fraud to exploit telemedicine technology meant for patients otherwise unable to access health care,” Assistant Attorney General Benczkowski said in a statement.
Proceeds from plot were laundered through international shell companies and used to pay for luxury cars, yachts and real estate in the United States and overseas, prosecutors said.
“This Department of Justice will not tolerate medical professionals and executives who look to line their pockets by cheating our health care programs,” Benczkowski said. “I commend the Criminal Division prosecutors and our partners from U.S. Attorney’s Offices and law enforcement agencies across the country for their unrelenting efforts to stop this alleged fraud before more money was stolen from American taxpayers.”
In addition to the charges,the the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services took “adverse administrative action” against 130 durable medical equipment companies responsible for more than $1.7 billion in claims, the Justice Department said.
In South Carolina alone, Andrew Chmiel, 43, of Mt. Pleasant, owner of over a dozen companies involved in the scheme, was charged for his alleged involvement in a $200 million plot related to payments and bribes for unnecessary medical equipment orders.
Among those charged also included Creaghan Harry, 51, of Highland Beach, Fla.; Lester Stockett, 51, of Deerfield Beach, Fla.; and Elliot Lowenstern, 56, of Boca Raton, Fla. The three individuals are the owner, CEO and VP of marketing, respectively, of call centers and telemedicine companies, prosecutors said.
They face the charges for their alleged participation in a $454 million illegal healthcare kickback and international money laundering scheme related to bribes for referrals of medical equipment orders, prosecutors said.