Jury convicts 1, deadlocks on other defendant on conspiracy
A federal court jury Friday in Baton Rouge convicted New Orleans resident Verna S. Age, 59, of conspiracy to pay or receive health care kickbacks in a scheme prosecutors claim cost Medicare as much as $17.1 million.
But after two days of deliberation, the eight women jurors and four men on the jury deadlocked on two related felony charges against the woman’s former husband, 63-year-old Louis T. Age.
Louis Age and his former wife had provided home health care services through South Louisiana Home Health Care.
A registered nurse, 47-year-old Kathy A. Perio, of the Terrebonne Parish community of Gray, was acquitted on charges of conspiracy to commit health care fraud and making a false statement for Medicare benefits.
Perio was among scores of registered nurses who assessed individual patients as to whether they qualified for home health care services reimbursed by Medicare.
And Perio is the first target of the Baton Rouge Medicare Fraud Strike Force to win an acquittal since its formation in December 2009. Dozens of other defendants have either pleaded guilty or been convicted at trial in other cases.
“I believed she was innocent, and the jury did exactly what I asked: They decided justice was finding Kathy Perio not guilty,” said Thomas C. Damico, Perio’s defense attorney.
“Kathy was elated. She said she couldn’t wait to get home to her little girl.”
Prosecutors did not immediately say whether they would bring Louis Age back to court for a second trial. Nor did they say whether Verna Age would be tried a second time on two deadlocked charges related to the count on which she was convicted.
Louis Age could be tried again on charges of conspiracy to commit health care fraud and conspiracy to receive or pay health care kickbacks. Verna Age could face a second trial on charges of conspiracy to commit health care fraud and making a false statement for Medicare benefits.
Perio’s acquittal and Louis Age’s hung jury do not alter the fact that Justice Department prosecutors David M. Maria and Abigail B. Taylor earlier proved through other defendants that multimillion-dollar frauds occurred at SLHH.
Dr. Michael S. Hunter, of New Orleans, admitted that he was paid $2,500 per month to provide SLHH with bogus recommendations for home health care services for Medicare patients who did not qualify for them. Hunter admitted that his actions caused Medicare to pay $3.38 million to SLHH for those unnecessary services.
Hunter pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud, for which he could be sent to prison for 10 years.
He testified against Verna Age and Louis Age.
Ayanna Age Alverez, 39, of New Orleans, pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy to commit health care fraud, conspiracy to pay or receive health care kickbacks and making a false statement for Medicare benefits.
Alverez, who was 9 when her mother died, is the daughter of Louis Age and former stepdaughter of Verna Age. She testified against the defendants.
“It was clear that Ayanna Alverez and her clerical staff were the ones falsifying those files,” Damico said after the verdict.