WASHINGTON— 29 March 2011 – A Los Angeles woman has pleaded guilty to using fraudulent medical clinics and the stolen identities of physicians to defraud Medicare of more than $6.2 million, the Departments of Justice and Health and Human Services (HHS) announced.
Carolyn Ann Vasquez, 46, pleaded guilty yesterday before U.S. District Judge Terry J. Hatter Jr. in the Central District of California. Vasquez admitted that from 2007 to 2008, she conspired with others to use a series of fraudulent Los Angeles-area medical clinics to defraud Medicare. Vasquez admitted that her co-conspirators used the identities and Medicare provider numbers of physicians who both worked and did not work at the clinics to submit false claims to Medicare for reimbursement for services the physicians did not perform and for power wheelchairs, medical equipment and diagnostic tests that the physicians did not order or prescribe. According to court documents, physician assistants recruited to work at the clinics by Vasquez and working at her direction performed these services and prescribed and ordered the wheelchairs, medical equipment and diagnostic tests.
According to court documents, Vasquez told the physicians she recruited that they would be the medical directors of the clinics, but that if they did not want to work full time, the clinics would hire physician assistants. Vasquez assisted the physicians in obtaining Medicare provider numbers and entering into management agreements that gave Vasquez’s co-conspirators authority to operate and manage the clinics in exchange for 75 percent of the reimbursement payments the physicians received from Medicare.
According to court documents, Vasquez’s involvement in the recruitment of the physicians gave her access to their personal and Medicare information, which Vasquez stole to further the fraud scheme at the medical clinics. Vasquez admitted that in approximately 2007, a physician contacted her about a job at one of the fraudulent medical clinics, but the physician decided not to accept the job. Nevertheless, Vasquez’s co-conspirators printed prescription pads with the physician’s name and Medicare provider number on them. Vasquez admitted that she instructed a physician assistant working at one of the fraudulent medical clinics to use the prescription pads to write fraudulent prescriptions and medical documentation for diagnostic tests, power wheelchairs and other medical equipment in the physician’s name even through Vasquez knew that the physician did not work at the clinic. Vasquez admitted that as a result of her conduct, Medicare was defrauded of approximately $6,268,899.
At sentencing, scheduled for July 11, 2011, Vasquez faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
According to information contained in court documents in this case, Vasquez pleaded guilty in 1993 to participating in a health care fraud scheme. According to court documents, Vasquez and others used telemarketing or “boiler room” schemes to defraud government-funded health care benefit programs of approximately $41 million.
The guilty plea was announced by Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Criminal Division; U.S. Attorney André Birotte Jr. for the Central District of California; Tony Sidley, Assistant Chief of the California Department of Justice, Bureau of Medi-Cal Fraud and Elder Abuse; Glenn R. Ferry, Special Agent-in-Charge for the Los Angeles Region of the HHS Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG); and Steven Martinez, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office.
The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Jonathan T. Baum of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section. Former Special Trial Attorney Joseph Hudzik participated in the prosecution. The case is being investigated by the FBI.
The case was brought as part of the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, supervised by the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California. The Medicare Fraud Strike Force operations are part of the Health Care Fraud Prevention & Enforcement Action Team (HEAT), a joint initiative announced in May 2009 between the Department of Justice and HHS to focus their efforts to prevent and deter fraud and enforce current anti-fraud laws around the country.
Since their inception in March 2007, strike force operations in nine districts have charged 1,000 defendants who collectively have falsely billed the Medicare program for more than $2.3 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.
To learn more about HEAT, go to: www.stopmedicarefraud.gov.