3 La. doctors indicted after nationwide Medicare probe

Two doctors in New Orleans and a third in Baton Rouge are among 11 new defendants indicted as a result of investigations by the Baton Rouge Medicare Fraud Strike Force, federal officials announced Tuesday in Washington, D.C.

Between $80 million and $100 million in fraudulent Medicare billings are alleged in two Strike Force indictments in Baton Rouge and New Orleans.

Attorney General Eric Holder and Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said the 11 defendants in the Louisiana cases are among 89 announced nationwide as people who sent Medicare a combined total of $223 million in fraudulent billings.

In Baton Rouge, Dr. Zahid Imran was identified last week as a new defendant in a Medicare fraud case that now targets 17 people for prosecution over losses prosecutors estimate at between $20 million and $49.9 million.

Imran, 55, said both before and after his indictment that he is innocent of charges that allege he conspired to commit health care fraud by falsely certifying patients for partial outpatient services at two Baton Rouge psychiatric clinics.

Those clinics were Shifa Community Health Center, in the 6700 block of Goya Avenue, and Serenity Center, in the 1000 block of Lobdell Boulevard. Imran, of Baton Rouge, also was an owner of Serenity Center.

Among those indicted in New Orleans federal court are Dr. Alvin Darby, 57, of Slidell, and Dr. Barbara Smith, 64, of Metairie. Both physicians are charged with conspiracy to commit health care fraud. They are alleged to have fraudulently certified ineligible Medicare patients for home health care services.

The indictment, made public Tuesday, alleges Darby and Smith accepted payments from Slidell businessman Mark Morad, 49, to certify patients for receipt of home health care services provided by three of Morad’s firms — Interlink Health Care Services, Memorial Home Health Inc. and Lakeland Health Care Services.

Between April 2005 and December 2012, the indictment says, the three firms billed Medicare a combined total of $51.7 million for home health care services. The firms were paid a combined total of $42.4 million by Medicare during that time, according to the indictment.

Darby could not be located for comment Thursday.

Smith, however, said she has never worked for Morad or for any of his three firms.

Smith emphatically declared her innocence, adding, “I definitely have not” fraudulently certified any patients for Medicare-covered services for any business person or company.

Demetrias Temple, 52, of New Orleans, and Nicole Oliver, 43, of Napoleonville, are identified in the New Orleans indictment as patient recruiters for Morad’s three firms.

Neither Temple nor Oliver could be reached for comment late Tuesday.

All five defendants are accused of conspiracy to commit health care fraud. Morad, Temple and Oliver also are accused of conspiracy to pay and receive health care kickbacks.

In Baton Rouge, new defendants in the psychiatric services investigation include Baton Rouge resident Rafat M. Jafri, 55. Jafri was an owner of a third clinic, Shifa Texas, in Houston, according to the amended indictment. He is accused of conspiracy to commit health care fraud, as well as conspiracy to pay and receive health care kickbacks.

A request for comment left on Jafri’s home answering machine late Tuesday was not returned.

Three Houston residents also are charged in the amended indictment in Baton Rouge. They are 47-year-old James R. Hunter, 45-year-old Anna Ngang and 33-year-old Osborne “Patrick” Wallace.

According to the indictment, Hunter was a Medicare-patient recruiter for Shifa Texas. Ngang is described in the indictment as a therapist and program director at Shifa Texas. Wallace, the indictment states, “was a recreational therapist employed at Shifa Texas.”

Hunter, Ngang and Wallace are accused of conspiracy to commit health care fraud. Hunter also is accused of conspiracy to pay and receive health care kickbacks.

Hunter, Ngang and Wallace could not be located for comment Tuesday.

A sixth new defendant in the Baton Rouge case is Erica Williams, 42, of Beaumont, Texas.

Williams appeared in federal court Thursday and pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy in the Shifa and Serenity fraud cases. Chief U.S. District Judge Brian A. Jackson did not immediately schedule a sentencing hearing for Williams.