Zachary resident Chikenna Jones was sentenced to seven years in federal prison Tuesday and ordered to pay restitution of $10.9 million for frauds committed against Medicare, the nation’s health insurer for elderly and disabled people.
A paralyzed Greensburg man whose Medicare number was stolen and used in the frauds told the judge and a Baton Rouge court audience of problems those crimes caused him last year.
Both Jones, 36, and her attorney, Michael A. Fiser, told U.S. District Judge James J. Brady that the woman’s role in the fraudulent schemes was secondary to that of her former husband, 37-year-old Henry Lamont Jones. Fiser and Chikenna Jones also noted that she is the primary caregiver for the divorced couple’s three children.
Justice Department prosecutor David M. Maria countered, however, that Chikenna Jones was an active participant in the fraudulent schemes. Maria also said parents cannot be absolved of criminal behavior because they have children.
“You need to punish the parents for their actions,” Maria told Brady. “They did these acts for years and years, and that cannot go unpunished.”
Trial testimony by federal investigators and scheme participants showed that patient recruiters were hired by the Joneses to locate Medicare patients, obtain their Medicare numbers and persuade physicians to prescribe expensive equipment. That equipment included $6,000 power wheelchairs, often for people who neither needed them nor had homes that could accommodate them.
The equipment was sold by the Joneses or other participants in the frauds, according to prosecution witnesses. Kickbacks were paid to the recruiters and some physicians, several of whom have been convicted and sentenced.
Such crimes proved frustrating for paralyzed Medicare patient Kendal Hall, 37, of Greensburg, in St. Helena Parish.
Hall told the court he knew nothing of those frauds, but added that someone obtained his Medicare number without his permission and used it to buy a power wheelchair in his name.
Last year, when his hand-powered wheelchair broke, leaving him largely confined to his residence for four months, Hall said he could not obtain a replacement wheelchair through Medicare. That was because Medicare’s records falsely indicated Hall already had received a power wheelchair.
Outside the courtroom, Hall added: “I just keep hearing this name — Henry Jones. I want to know who he is.”
Henry Jones is scheduled to be sentenced Aug. 21.
“This caused me … not to be able to go anywhere,” Hall explained. He said the months-long delay in obtaining a new hand-powered wheelchair also hurt him emotionally because: “It was like my character had been destroyed.”
But Hall received that new wheelchair and resumed operating his business, Kendal’s Lawncare Service.
Before sentencing her to prison, Brady told Chikenna Jones: “I’ve become acutely aware of how insidious this game was. You were just greedy.”
After the hearing, William W. Root, assistant special agent in charge of investigations for the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General, said: “The sentencing today allowed you to see a victim other than just the Medicare program. This victim, a wheelchair-bound man, was denied a (new) wheelchair because Medicare’s records reflected an illegal claim filed by the defendant. Health care fraud does affect us all.”