Hundreds of people were bused into Baton Rouge from Tennessee during a six-year period to attend therapy sessions at two community mental health clinics and help bilk $37.9 million from Medicare, according to federal court records and officials.
Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer said Wednesday in Washington, D.C., that the $225 million billed by the two clinics for purported treatment of those patients is “the largest (community mental health clinic) scheme ever alleged.”
Medicare rejected the bulk of those bills, but paid $37.9 million on the alleged fraudulent demands, according to two indictments in Baton Rouge federal court. That is the largest loss figure alleged by the Baton Rouge Medicare Fraud Strike Force since its formation in December 2009.
Four former employees of Shifa Community Mental Health Center in the 6700 block of Goya Avenue and Serenity Center in the 1000 block of Lobdell Boulevard pleaded guilty as a result of the ongoing federal investigation last week.
Two clinic owners and five more employees appeared Wednesday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Stephen C. Riedlinger as a result of a new indictment.
The judge ordered two Baton Rouge women held without bail until a detention hearing scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Tuesday at the request of Justice Department prosecutors David M. Maria and Abigail B. Taylor, as well as Assistant U.S. Attorney Shubhra Shivpuri,
Both women were clinic owners, according to the indictment.
Hoor Naz Jafri, 43, was identified as an owner and director of both Shifa and Serenity.
Roslyn F. Dogan, 51, was listed in the indictment as an owner and officer of Serenity.
Maria signed a request for detention of both women Wednesday.
Jafri is a naturalized citizen and has strong ties to her native India, Maria wrote. He added Jafri and Dogan have sufficient cash to flee the country.
Maria also alleged Dogan destroyed clinic files and “even stole evidence from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in order to obstruct the investigation and conceal fraudulent activity.”
From 2005 through 2011, Maria said, the clinics owned by Jafri and Dogan took advantage of “the elderly, drug addicts and chronically mentally ill individuals by providing them with no services, inadequate services and clinically inappropriate services.”
Such patients — rounded up from homeless shelters, nursing homes and other facilities — were kept near the two clinics at apartment complexes managed by Jafri, Maria told the magistrate.
Jafri, Dogan and five co-defendants are accused of conspiracy to commit health-care fraud. Jafri, Dogan and four of their co-defendants also are charged with at least one count of health-care fraud.
Three Baton Rouge residents — Sedra J. Signater, 46; Kyeiana E. Murray, 38; and James J. Myer, 41 — were released without bail.
Signater is named in the indictment as Shifa’s former administrator.
Murray, who is charged only in the conspiracy count, is named as Shifa’s former office manager.
Myer is named in the indictment as a former licensed clinical social worker at Serenity. However, Myer told the magistrate he is a licensed recreational therapist, not a social worker.
Also facing conspiracy and fraud charges are Arthur Smith Jr., 30, of Woodville, Miss., and Robert E. Booker, 33, of Clinton. Both men were released without bail.
Smith is listed in the indictment as Serenity’s former administrator. Booker is identified as a former licensed recreational therapist for Shifa.
Nationally, 107 people were arrested and charged Wednesday with alleged Medicare crimes that involved $452 million in fraudulent billings.
The Baton Rouge case accounted for more than half of that dollar total.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced the arrests in Washington, D.C.
All of the arrests resulted from work by investigators of the FBI, the HHS Office of Inspector General, and, in Louisiana, the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit of the state Attorney General’s Office, according to a news release from the Justice Department.
The Baton Rouge Medicare Strike Force is one of nine that are scattered from Brooklyn to Los Angeles.
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