North Texas Medical Supply Company Owner Indicted For Health Care Fraud Now Also Charged With Immigration Fraud

A Plano, Texas man already indicted for health care fraud now also faces federal immigration fraud related changes.  Justice Department officials announced the additional charges against Okey F. Nwagbara, (Nwagbara) on December 20, 2011.  Although Nwagbara’s alleged actions reflect potential criminal misconduct in many areas, health care providers should keep in mind that the health care fraud task force participants are targeting health care fraud of all types, including those my health care providers not engaged in other types of criminal misconduct.  As a result, all health care providers should tighten their health care billing and other practices to defend against possible scrutiny as part of the federal or state government’s widening fraud audit and investigation efforts.

Nwagbara Indicted For Health Care Fraud In October, 2011

Nwagbara 45 already is awaiting trial later in Spring, 2012 on health care fraud charges announced in October, 2011.  According to the Justice Department, a North Texas grand jury indicted Nwagbara along with Jerry C. Bullard, 55, Mesquite, Texas, in October, 2011 on felony charges related to a health care fraud scheme they allegedly ran that defrauded Medicare of more than $500,000.

According to the Justice Department, Nwagbara is the owner/operator of Advanced MedEquip and Supplies Limited, located at 331 Melrose Drive in Richardson, Texas. Bullard is a former employee of Medistat Group Associates, P.A., an association of health care providers located in Desoto, Texas.

The October health care fraud indictment charges Nwagbara and Bullard each with one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud and six substantive counts of health care fraud. The indictment alleges that from June 2008 through March 2010, Nwagbara and Bullard conspired together to defraud Medicare by submitting more than $500,000 in claims to the Medicare program for enternal nutrition DME, when in fact such DME was not medically necessary and in many cases, not provided.

According to the health care fraud indictment, Bullard worked in the Durable Medical Equipment (DME) section of Medistat where he was in charge of handling physicians’ prescriptions for equipment. Bullard and Nwagbara had a kickback arrangement and Bullard placed orders for DME with Nwagbara’s company, Advanced.  

The indictment claims Bullard, using a Medistat physician’s name, would sign prescriptions, DME information forms and certificates of medical necessity for Medicare beneficiaries falsely indicating, among other things, that a beneficiary had a feeding tube when in fact, the beneficiary did not.

The enteral nutrition products which were billed to Medicare are consumed by a patient through a feeding tube. The associated feeding supply kits include tubing and syringes. The indictment claims that both the enteral formula and the kits that Advanced billed to Medicare were not medically necessary because the beneficiaries were not receiving nutrition through a feeding tube, the indictment claims. Instead, beneficiaries were receiving flavored nutritional supplements such as Ensure® and Glucerna® that would be consumed orally.  Medicare does not reimburse orally ingested nutritional supplements.

In addition, the health care fraud indictment alleges that Nwagbara supplied only a fraction of the enternal products for which he billed Medicare and many of the beneficiaries never received the feeding supply kits for which he also billed Medicare.

The health care fraud case is being investigated by the Dallas Health Care Fraud Prevention and Enforcement Action Team (HEAT) Strike Force, which includes the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services – Office of Inspector General, the FBI and the Texas Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit. Prior to the announcement of the other charges, his trial on the health care fraud charges was scheduled for March, 2012.  It is not clear whether the new charges will delay these proceedings.

New Immigration Charges

On December 20, 2011, the Justice Department announced that a North Texas grand jury now also has indicted Nwagbara for making misrepresentations in immigration and naturalization documents that misled the government and prevented the government from examining material facts that may have prevented his naturalization according to a December 20, 2011 Justice Department announcement.

According to the December 20, 2011 announcement by U.S. Attorney Sarah R. Saldaña, the immigration charges resulted from investigative work by the Dallas Health Care Fraud Strike Force, in concert with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

The new immigration indictment alleges that Nwagbara entered into a fraudulent marriage and provided false statements to obtain citizenship. On January 30, 2008, he made false statements on his application for naturalization that included:

  • Verifying that he had been married to and living with the same U.S. citizen for the last three years, when he was not living with his U.S. citizen spouse;
  • Indicating that he had no children, when in fact he had two children; and
  • Indicating that he had never previously claimed to be a U.S. citizen, when in fact, he falsely stated on a mortgage application in January 2006 that he was a U.S. citizen.

According to Saldaña, the immigration related indictment charges Nwagbara with three counts of making a false statement in an immigration document and three counts of unlawful procurement of naturalization. If convicted, each count carries a maximum statutory sentence of 10 years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine. Furthermore, should Nwagbara be convicted of unlawfully procuring his naturalization, his status as a U.S. citizen will be revoked by court order.

The Justice Department announcements reminds readers that an indictment is an accusation by a federal grand jury, and a defendant is entitled to the presumption of innocence unless proven guilty.

Health Care Fraud Charges Part of Ongoing National Anti-Health Care Fraud Campaign

The Medicare Fraud Strike Force operations are part of the Health Care Fraud Prevention & Enforcement Action Team (HEAT), a joint initiative between the Department of Justice and HHS to focus their efforts to prevent and deter fraud and enforce current anti-fraud laws around the country.  The joint Department of Justice-HHS Medicare Fraud Strike Force is a multi-agency team of federal, state and local investigators designed to combat Medicare fraud through the use of Medicare data analysis techniques and an increased focus on community policing.  Since its announcement, the Strike Force has used the combined resources of agents from the FBI, HHS-Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG), multiple Medicaid Fraud Control Units, and other state and local law enforcement agencies to investigate and prosecute a rising number of organizations and individuals throughout the industry for alleged violations of Federal health care fraud prohibitions.  In their September 7, 2011 announcement, HHS and DOJ credited Strike Force Operations in nine locations with resulting in charges against more than 1,140 defendants who the government charged collectively falsely billed the Medicare program for more than $2.9 billion.  

In addition, the HHS Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, working in conjunction with the HHS-OIG, are using a wide range of new and old tools in their campaign against what they perceive as fraudulent providers and to deter other perceived aggressiveness by health care providers and organizations.  See e.g., U.S. to use software to crack down on Medicare, Medicaid, CHIP fraud;   Health Care Fraud Enforcement Packs New Heat; OIG Shares Key Insights On When Owners, Officers & Managers Face OIG Program Exclusion Based On Health Care Entity Misconduct; OIG Launch of Health Care Fraud “Most Wanted” List Sign of Enforcement Risks; CMS Delegated Lead Responsibility For Development of New Affordable Care Act-Required Medicare Self-Referral Disclosure Protocol; HHS announces Rules Implementing Tools Added By Affordable Care Act to Prevent Federal Health Program Fraud.

The effectiveness of these Federal efforts to deter, find and prosecute false claims and other perceived abuses of Federal health care law has been significantly strengthened since Congress passed the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act (Affordable Care Act).  Among other things, ACA empowered HHS to:

  • Suspend payments to providers and suppliers based on credible allegations of fraud in Medicare and Medicaid;
  • Impose a temporary moratorium on Medicare, Medicaid, and CHIP enrollment on providers and suppliers when necessary to help prevent or fight fraud, waste, and abuse without impeding beneficiaries’ access to care.
  • Strengthen and build on current provider enrollment and screening procedures to more accurately assure that fraudulent providers are not gaming the system and that only qualified  health care providers and suppliers are allowed to enroll in and bill Medicare, Medicaid and CHIP;
  • Terminate providers from Medicaid and CHIP when they have been terminated by Medicare or by another state Medicaid program or CHIP;
  • Require provider compliance programs, now required under the Affordable Care Act, that will ensure providers are aware of and comply with CMS program requirements.

Act To Manage Risks

In response to the growing emphasis and effectiveness of Federal officials in investigating and taking action against health care providers and organizations, health care providers covered by federal false claims, referral, kickback and other health care fraud laws should consider auditing the adequacy of existing practices, tightening training, oversight and controls on billing and other regulated conduct, reaffirming their commitment to compliance to workforce members and constituents and taking other appropriate steps to help prevent, detect and timely redress health care fraud exposures within their organization and to prepare their organization to respond and defend against potential investigations or charges.

For More Information Or Assistance

If you need assistance reviewing or responding to these or other health care related risk management, compliance, enforcement or management concerns, the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, may be able to help.

Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law, Vice President of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section and the former Board Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, Ms. Stamer has more than 23 years experience advising health industry clients.

Throughout her career, Ms. Stamer has advised and represented health care providers and other health industry clients.  She helps health industry clients to establish and administer compliance and risk management policies and to respond to health care, human resources, tax, privacy, safety, antitrust, civil rights, and other laws as well as to handle public policy and government relations, peer review and credentialing, performance and discipline, training, internal investigation, litigation and enforcement and other compliance, public policy, regulatory, staffing, and other operations and risk management concerns.

A popular lecturer and widely published author on health industry concerns, Ms. Stamer continuously advises health industry clients about compliance and internal controls, workforce and medical staff performance, quality, governance, reimbursement, and other risk management and operational matters. Ms. Stamer also publishes and speaks extensively on health and managed care industry regulatory, staffing and human resources, compensation and benefits, technology, public policy, reimbursement and other operations and risk management concerns including a number of programs and publications on health care fraud, privacy, and other rules and enforcement actions. Her insights on these and other related matters appear in the Health Care Compliance Association, Atlantic Information Service, Bureau of National Affairs, World At Work, The Wall Street Journal, Business Insurance, the Dallas Morning News, Modern Health Care, Managed Healthcare, Health Leaders, and a many other national and local publications.

You can learn more information about Ms. Stamer’s health industry experience here. If you need assistance with these or other compliance concerns, wish to inquire about arranging for compliance audit or training, or need legal representation on other matters please contact Ms. Stamer at (469) 767-8872 or via e-mail here

Other Resources

If you found this update of interest, you also may be interested in reviewing some of the other updates and publications authored by Ms. Stamer available including:

About Solutions Law Press

Solutions Law Press™ provides business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other resources, training and education on human resources, employee benefits, compensation, data security and privacy, health care, insurance, and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and other key operational concerns. If you find this of interest, you also be interested reviewing some of our other Solutions Law Press resources available at www.solutionslawpress.com

THE FOLLOWING DISCLAIMER IS INCLUDED TO COMPLY WITH AND IN RESPONSE TO U.S. TREASURY DEPARTMENT CIRCULAR 230 REGULATIONS.  ANY STATEMENTS CONTAINED HEREIN ARE NOT INTENDED OR WRITTEN BY THE WRITER TO BE USED, AND NOTHING CONTAINED HEREIN CAN BE USED BY YOU OR ANY OTHER PERSON, FOR THE PURPOSE OF (1) AVOIDING PENALTIES THAT MAY BE IMPOSED UNDER FEDERAL TAX LAW, OR (2) PROMOTING, MARKETING OR RECOMMENDING TO ANOTHER PARTY ANY TAX-RELATED TRANSACTION OR MATTER ADDRESSED HEREIN.

©2011 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C.  Non-exclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press. All other rights reserved.

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