Federal agents tasked with rooting out Medicare fraud announced indictments against more than 30 people Tuesday, including four in New York, for bilking the taxpayer-funded program of more than $60 million, including a scam in which a mother and son from Bay Ridge allegedly filed claims for special diabetes shoes and inserts that turned out to be nothing more than $20 over-the-counter insoles.
The charges, which include bribes, kickbacks and money laundering, were detailed in five indictments involving 32 people, unsealed Tuesday in federal courts in Brooklyn, Miami and Detroit. They are part of a growing effort to crack down on Medicare fraud that began in 2007. The announcement comes as Congress weighs a national health care overhaul that includes changes that rid the 44-year-old program of what the Obama administration has called wasteful spending.
The charges were announced during a news conference at the U.S. attorney's office in Brooklyn, where officials from the Department of Justice and local U.S. Attorney Benton Campbell joined Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.
"These people rob Medicare of precious dollars by fraudulently billing for services not rendered or not needed. . . . They are stealing American taxpayer dollars, which are intended for those most in need," said Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer of the Criminal Division.
Known at the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, the joint operation between the Justice Department and Health and Human Services was created in March 2007. Officials said the task force has prosecuted more than 460 people, who are accused of bilk taxpayers of roughly $1 billion.
Under the Brooklyn program, which was started in the past month, investigators snagged these alleged schemes:
Niranjan Patel of Bayside is accused of taking an illegal kickback as a radiologist working at an imaging facility in Brooklyn; Justin Kaithamanglath, an ultrasound technician from Queens Village, is charged with submitting false claims. They were both arraigned yesterday and released on $75,000 bail.
Lorraine Levy, 78, of Coconut Creek, Fla., is accused of wooing fellow seniors as director of customer services at Brooklyn-based Americare In Home, according to court records. Levy allegedly solicited Medicare patients with promises of free shoes and inserts reserved for diabetes patients, even if they were not medically needed. From there, officials said, her son, Parke Levy, 47, of Bay Ridge, would take over, measuring each patient's foot for three sets of custom-molded inserts that averaged around $200. What patients got in return, according to federal prosecutors, was nothing more than $20 over-the-counter insoles.