Florida Woman Lands Herself 6.5 Years in Prison, Owes $45 Million for Medicare Fraud Scheme

6 Indest-2008-3By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

On November 22, 2017, a Florida woman who was accused of a $45 million Medicare fraud, received a six-and-a-half-year prison sentence, following a 2016 U.S. Supreme Court decision in her case holding that the government could not freeze untainted assets.

Sila Luis received an 80-month prison sentence in addition to being ordered to pay $45 million in restitution.  This came after a 2016 guilty plea to a charge of conspiracy to commit health care fraud. Her case continued in 2017 following a 5-3 ruling by the Supreme Court holding that the government could not freeze assets belonging to her that were not tied to the alleged fraud scheme.  This decision has the effect of making it more difficult for law enforcement authorities to swoop in and seize all assets of a suspect, effectively depriving them of the resources to even hire an attorney (which is a common tactic in such cases).

“Innocent” Property Can’t Be Seized.

In the 2016 Supreme Court decision, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor, voted to overturn the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals decision that the government could freeze Luis’ “innocent” assets as well as the ones directly traceable to the Medicaid fraud funds.  Justice Clarence Thomas concurred in a separate opinion.

“We conclude that the defendant in this case has a Sixth Amendment right to use her own ‘innocent’ property to pay a reasonable fee for the assistance of counsel,” Justice Breyer wrote for the plurality. “On the assumptions made here, the district court’s order prevents Luis from exercising that right.”

Under federal statute, the government is allowed to freeze some assets before trial in criminal cases alleging federal health care or banking violations, according to the ruling. However, the Justices agreed with the defendant that the freeze o f all her assets kept her from paying her attorney.  This by itself will usually force a guilty plea even from someone who may be innocent.

Prior to her guilty plea, she was accused of Medicare fraud and Anti-Kickback Statute violations allegedly through paying patients.  She allegedly paid the patients to use one of her home health companies so that she could bill the government for unnecessary or unprovided services.  To read more on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision, click here.

To read the judgement of the case in full, click here.

To read about another case of Medicare fraud in Florida, click here to read one of my prior blogs.

My Observations on this Case.

The power of pretrial seizure of assets is a very heavy handed tactic that I have seen used a number of times by law enforcement authorities, often, in my opinion, completely wrongfully.  In some cases it is used as a hammer to try to bludgeon the suspect to death.  In others it may be motivated by something as simple as a sheriff’s deputy deciding he really liked the defendant’s car and wanted to seize it.  I have seen the bank accounts of minor children sized when all they contained was what the child had worked for at a part time job to help pay for college.  I have seen an annuity fund seized which had been paid for ten years before any of the criminal activity allegedly took place.  I have seen cash taken from a mother (the wife of the alleged suspect) going into the delivery room at a hospital to give birth, when the cash had just been given to her by her mother to pay the hospital bill. I have seen law enforcement hold out in negotiations to return wrongfully seized property because what they really wanted was the suspect’s new Cadillac to use. Pre-trial seizure is an extremely powerful tool that can be easily misused.

So I can understand the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in this case. On a slightly different topic however, I never cease to wonder at the small (relatively speaking) sentences that are given to the largest crooks.  I have seen poor people who could not feed their families sentenced to similar prison terms for merely a few thousand dollars in Medicaid or food stamp fraud.  Yet here someone bilks us, the taxpayers, out of $45 million and only gets only 80 months?  Let’s see.  That’s getting paid $562,500 per month for every month in jail.  Gosh, I bet there are some pretty rich people around who don’t make $562,500 a month. Typically, we find out that these people have their millions stashed overseas in secret foreign bank accounts.  Do several years in prison, get out, and then vanish overseas to Cuba or elsewhere and live like a king (or queen) for the rest of their lives.  The story seems to happen over and over again.

Maybe the key should be to make the sentencing guidelines give one month of prison times for every one hundred thousand dollars stolen.  Then reduce that prison time by one month for every one hundred thousand dollars that is paid back in restitution.  This promotes prompt restitution while ensuring that the convicted defendant does not get out only to flee somewhere to enjoy their stash of hidden funds.  This means, of course, that the Bernie Maddofs never get out (as should be the case), but at least the smaller offenders are nor being punished disproportionately to the larger ones.

Health Care Fraud Should Not Be Taken Lightly.

We have been consulted by many individuals, both before and after criminal convictions for fraud or related offenses.  In many cases, those subject to Medicare fraud audits and investigations refuse to acknowledge the seriousness of the matter.  Some may even decide not to spend the money required for a highly experienced health attorney to defend them.

Click here to read one of my previous blog posts regarding Medicare audits.

The government is serious about combating health care fraud.  It created a Medicare Fraud Strike Force in March of 2007, in an effort to further prevent and eliminate fraud and abuse of government health care programs.  False claims are a growing problem in the program, costing the government billions of dollars each year.  Accordingly, punishments for defrauding the system can be quite severe.

If you have assets seized by state or federal law enforcement authorities, you must act immediately to start the proceedings to have them released or you may forfeit them.  There are often a number of valid defenses to have your property released.  The Health Law Firm represents individuals, spouses and families in obtaining the release of “forfeitures” and seized property and funds.

If you are accused of Medicare or Medicaid fraud, realize that you are in a fight for your life.  Your liberty, property/possessions and profession are all at stake.  Often it is possible to settle allegations of Medicare fraud by agreeing to pay civil monetary penalties and fines.  If given such an opportunity, the Medicare provider should consider whether it is worth the risk of facing decades in prison.  Be prepared to give up whatever you need to in order to avoid a conviction and preserve your liberty.

Don’t Wait Until It’s Too Late; Consult with a Health Law Attorney Experienced in Medicare Issues Now.

The attorneys of The Health Law Firm represent healthcare providers in Medicare audits, ZPIC audits and RAC audits throughout Florida and across the U.S.  They also represent physicians, medical groups, nursing homes, home health agencies, pharmacies, hospitals and other healthcare providers and institutions in Medicare and Medicaid investigations, audits, recovery actions and termination from the Medicare or Medicaid Program.
For more information please visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com or call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001.

Sources:

Macagnone, Michael. “Fla. Woman Gets 6.5 Years, Owes $45M For Medicare Fraud.” Law360. (November 22, 2017). Web.

Koenig, Bryan. “High Court Determines ‘Untainted’ Assets Can’t Be Frozen.” Law360. (March 30, 2016). Web.

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law.  He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice.  Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida area.  www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.

Keywords: Legal representation for Medicare fraud, legal representation for health care fraud, legal representation for Medicare audits, Medicare audit defense, legal representation for Medicare billing, health care clinic fraud audit, Medicare fraud defense attorney, health care fraud defense lawyer, health care fraud scheme, Medicare fraud scheme, civil forfeiture defense attorney, The Health Law Firm, legal representation for Medicare fraud investigation, civil forfeiture defense lawyer, legal representation for fraudulent billing, legal representation for improper billing, restitution for health care fraud offense, Medicare reimbursement claims, improper Medicare billing claims, false claims defense attorney, legal representation for Anti-Kickback Statute (AKS), AKS defense attorney, legal representation for accepting kickbacks, The Health Law firm attorney reviews, reviews of The Health Law Firm

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of George F. Indest III, P.A. – The Health Law Firm, a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.Copyright © 2017 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

 

 

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Eye Doctor Faces Maximum of 200 Years in Prison for Medicare Fraud

5 Indest-2008-2By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

A central Florida ophthalmologist with offices in Windermere and Leesburg, was found guilty of 20 counts of Medicare fraud on September 29th. He faces a maximum of ten years in prison for each count. David Ming Pon, M.D., was convicted of health care fraud this past Tuesday by a Jacksonville federal jury. Following trial, Dr. Pon was turned over to the United States Marshals Service. He will remain in custody as he awaits his sentencing which is currently scheduled for March 14, 2016.

To read my previous blog posts as I followed this story from indictment to conviction, click here.

The Egregious Nature of the Crime.

Among allegations of defrauding Medicare out of millions of dollars, Dr. Pon is also said by the prosecution to have intentionally misdiagnosed and subsequently treated (unnecessarily) hundreds of patients. Dr. Pon provided several patients (most elderly) with phony diagnoses of macular degeneration, an eye disease that gradually progresses to vision loss. He then performed unnecessary laser treatments on his patients and billed Medicare for the services.

While the laser was set on low so as not to have caused any permanent damage per witness testimony, Dr. Pon was also found to have injected some of his patients with dangerous dyes that did have the potential to cause serious side effects.

To read the full press release from the FBI, click here.

Paying Back the Government.

Aside from the criminal charges, the federal government has filed suit against Dr. Pon in an effort to seize his assets as restitution for the Medicare funds he fraudulently acquired. Dr. Pon owns several pieces of property in the central Florida area which are vulnerable to government seizure per federal law.

Section 981, 18 United States Code details property subject to civil forfeiture. More specifically, section 981(a)(2)(A) states:

“For purposes of paragraph (1), the term “proceeds” is defined as follows:
(A) In cases involving illegal goods, illegal services, unlawful activities, and telemarketing and health care fraud schemes, the term “proceeds” means property of any kind obtained directly or indirectly, as the result of the commission of the offense giving rise to forfeiture, and any property traceable thereto, and is not limited to the net gain or profit realized from the offense.”

For more information on civil forfeiture of property, read one of our previous blog posts here.


No Small Matter.

Health care fraud is a big deal resulting in big consequences. If you find yourself facing allegations of Medicare or Medicaid fraud, immediately contact an experienced health attorney to advise you of your rights.

Furthermore, if you suspect Medicare or Medicaid fraud, do not hesitate to contact a knowledgeable attorney who can assist you in reporting the illegal activity.

To read one of my previous blogs on another recent health care fraud scheme, click here.

Tips Regarding Settling Medicare Fraud Cases.

Often it is possible to settle allegations of Medicare fraud by agreeing to pay civil monetary penalties and fines. If given such an opportunity, the Medicare provider should consider whether it is worth the risk of facing decades in prison. After all, you can’t spend your millions if you’re in prison for life.

The Health Law Firm has been successful in negotiating such deals with the United States Attorneys’ Offices.

Comments?

Have you ever been a victim or suspect of Medicare fraud? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Handling Medicaid Audits, Investigations and other Legal Proceedings.

The attorneys of The Health Law Firm represent retina surgeons and ophthalmologists on many different legal issues.

Medicaid fraud is a serious crime and is vigorously investigated by the state MFCU, the Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA), the Zone Program Integrity Contractors (ZPICs), the FBI, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). Often other state and federal agencies, including the U.S. Postal Service (USPS), and other law enforcement agencies participate. Don’t wait until it’s too late. If you are concerned of any possible violations and would like a confidential consultation, contact a qualified health attorney familiar with medical billing and audits today. Often Medicaid fraud criminal charges arise out of routine Medicaid audits, probe audits, or patient complaints.

The Health Law Firm’s attorneys routinely represent physicians, dentists, orthodontists, medical groups, clinics, pharmacies, assisted living facilities (ALFs), home health care agencies, nursing homes, group homes and other healthcare providers in Medicaid and Medicare investigations, audits and recovery actions. To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Sources:

Stutzman, Rene. “Eye Doctor Convicted of Medicare Fraud.” Local News: Orlando Sentinel. 30 Sept. 2015: B1-B3. Print.

United States Attorney’s Office, Middle District of Florida. “Federal Jury Finds Doctor Guilty on 20 Counts of Health Care Fraud.” Jacksonville Division: The FBI Federal Bureau of Investigation. Press Release. 29 Sept. 2015. Web. 1 Oct. 2015.

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.


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