Couple sentenced in Medicare fraud

Former Baton Rouge business owners Young Okoro Anyanwu and Beatrice Anyanwu were sentenced Friday to federal prison after admitting they defrauded Medicare and an insurance company of a combined total of $485,552.

The married couple, immigrants from Nigeria, were scheduled for trial in August. But they admitted multiple felonies after Dr. Anthony Stephen Jase, a New Orleans physician, pleaded guilty to two counts of health-care fraud and agreed to testify against them.

Jase, 42, is not yet scheduled for sentencing.

All three criminals were indicted as a result of an investigation by the Baton Rouge Medicare Fraud Strike Force. Investigators assigned to the Strike Force belong to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General; the FBI and the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office.

Young Anyanwu’s attorney, Lance C. Unglesby, argued Friday for lenient treatment, noting that his 61-year-old client had a clean record in both Texas and Nigeria before opening Lobdale Medical Services in Baton Rouge.

The fraudulent scheme occurred from February 2006 until November 2009, according to the indictments.

Unglesby told U.S. District Judge James J. Brady he does not believe the Anyanwus would have knowingly defrauded Medicare, as well as Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana, had they not come into contact with Jase and a New Orleans patient recruiter, Sandra Parkman Thompson, 57.

The Anyanwus sold power wheelchairs to Medicare patients illegally recruited by Thompson and others on the basis of prescriptions from Jase, who admitted that he never examined 90 percent of the patients, court records show.

Thompson was convicted at an August jury trial on conspiracy and health-care fraud charges. She is scheduled to be sentenced March 14.

“These (the Anyanwus) are not people who got into this business to try to defraud the government,” Unglesby argued.

“We are sorry for anything that was counted as fraud,” Young Anyanwu told the judge. “We did not know.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Catherine M. Maraist noted that Young Anyanwu once worked as a corrections officer in Texas.

“He should have known better,” Maraist said of Young Anyanwu. The prosecutor added Young Anyanwu paid kickbacks to patient recruiters before meeting and working with Thompson.

Maraist also said both the Anyanwus were secretly recorded as they instructed an undercover government informant not to tell anyone what they were doing at Lobdale Medical Services.

“It’s a scheme” from the beginning, Maraist said. “They came to Baton Rouge to run that scheme. There’s absolutely no evidence that this was an innocent mistake.”

Beatrice Anyanwu, 54, pleaded guilty to one count of health-care fraud and one count of paying an illegal bribe or kickback.

John N. Samaha, Beatrice Anyanwu’s attorney, told Brady that Beatrice Anyanwu was “an ideal citizen” who raised five children and served in the U.S. Army Reserve from 1993 until her honorable discharge in 2006.

“We are not fraudulent,” Beatrice Anyanwu said.

Maraist, the prosecutor, said, “It is clear they were aware that this was fraud.”

Brady sentenced Young Anyanwu to a three-year prison term. The judge sentenced Beatrice Anyanwu to 27 months. He ordered the couple to pay combined restitution of $470,386 to Medicare and $15,166 to Blue Cross and Blue Shield.

The judge ordered the couple, who moved to Houston after their indictment was returned in 2010, to report to prison by 2 p.m. on March 4.

“I have no doubt that you … knew what you were doing … and continued to engage in criminal activity,” Brady said. “You told people, ‘Don’t say anything about this,’ because it’s against the law, basically.”