BR psychiatrist pleads guilty to health care fraud

Dr. Zahid Imran
Dr. Zahid Imran

A 56-year-old Baton Rouge psychiatrist pleaded guilty Tuesday to plotting to commit health care fraud in what federal prosecutors called a 7-year scheme that cost Medicare tens of millions of dollars.

Dr. Zahid Imran will face up to 10 years in federal prison and hefty fines when he is sentenced Aug. 28 by Chief U.S. District Judge Brian Jackson.

Jackson allowed Imran to remain free on bond until his sentencing.

Federal prosecutors have said hundreds of people were bused into Baton Rouge from Memphis, Tennessee, and other locations to attend therapy sessions at two community mental health clinics — Shifa Community Mental Health Center on Goya Avenue and Serenity Center on Lobdell Boulevard.

Imran was Shifa’s medical director and co-owned and operated Serenity, according to a factual basis filed into the court record Tuesday.

He also co-owned a Shifa facility in Houston, the document states.

Imran and others submitted reimbursement claims to Medicare for services that had not been provided, according to the factual basis, which says the scheme stretched from 2005 through October 2011.

“Imran would admit patients to the Shifa facilities, even in circumstances where another psychiatrist may have determined that the patient did not qualify for PHP services and that such services were not medically necessary,” the document alleges.

PHP stands for Partial Hospitalization Programs. The treatment program of a PHP closely resembles that of a highly structured, short-term hospital inpatient program but is a distinct and organized intensive treatment program that offers less than 24-hour daily care, the factual basis says.

Imran also would sign false documents making it appear he had provided medical treatment to PHP patients when he had not provided the treatment reflected in the records, the factual basis charges.

“For instance, in October of 2009, Imran completed and signed various records that falsely indicated that he had seen and provided services to a patient, T.C., on or about October 10, 2009. In fact, Imran was out of the country on the date reflected on the records, and he had not provided any services to T.C. on that date,” the factual basis says.

The Shifa facilities submitted claims to Medicare totaling more than $258 million during the course of the conspiracy, the document notes.

“A significant portion of those claims was fraudulent,” the factual basis states, adding that some of the beneficiaries “had been induced to come to Shifa by the payment of illegal kickbacks.”

After Assistant U.S. Attorney Shubhra Shivpuri read portions of the factual basis inside Jackson’s courtroom, the judge asked Imran if he knowingly signed false documents.

“That’s a fact,” Imran replied.

“I agree,” Imran added when Jackson asked if Imran knew the false records would facilitate false claims to Medicare.

Federal prosecutors have said the clinics took advantage of the elderly, drug addicts and chronically mentally ill persons by providing them with no services, inadequate services and clinically inappropriate services.

Jason Williams, one of Imran’s attorneys, said after that Imran treated the mentally ill in the community well for many years. Imran’s work focused on the treatment side rather than the administrative side, he stressed.

“Part of that (administrative) process is a little messy. There’s some sloppiness,” Williams said.

Williams also said he wishes the federal government had taken into account “the totality of this man’s life” when making its prosecutorial decision.