An Old Brookville woman was sentenced Wednesday to 12 years in federal prison for a $7 million identity-theft scheme in which she entered more than a dozen nursing homes, posing as a health professional and stealing more than 1,000 patients' identification information.
The information taken by Helene Michel, 45, who posed alternately as a doctor, nurse-practitioner, wound care specialist or medical supplier, included Social Security and Medicare numbers. She used that information to falsely bill Medicare for the money.
Michel was believed to be one of the first in the country charged with violating the federal law making the misuse of confidential medical records a felony, according to officials. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act is commonly known as HIPAA.
Michel's case also was the second federal one on Long Island this week involving the growing problem of identity theft. On Tuesday, a Shirley man pleaded guilty in an unrelated multimillion-dollar tax-fraud case, involving misuse of personal information of Puerto Rican residents.
In sentencing Michel, Bianco noted she submitted bills for leg wound care for a patient who was a double above-the-knee amputee. Court records show she submitted bills for special boots for the same patient.
Michel was convicted in August in federal court in Central Islip of conspiracy, health care fraud, and illegal disclosure of individual's health information.
Bianco also ordered Michel to make $4.4 million in restitution and forfeit $1.4 million.
The $4.4 million was the amount that Michel and her then husband, Etienne Allonce, got back from the government for the $7 million in false bills they submitted through the Hicksville medical supply company, Medical Solutions Management, officials said. The two operated the company between 2003 and 2007, court records say. Allonce, who was named as a co-defendant in the case, is a fugitive and is believed to be hiding in the couple's native Haiti, officials have said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Charles Kelly said, "There is an epidemic of ID theft and much of it comes out of health-related places. . . . There is in the criminal community an insatiable demand for face sheets that" contain a patient's Social Security and Medicare numbers. They "have become a cash equivalent on the streets of Long Island where they are sold at a price per sheet, per patient."
The rate for such face sheets ranges up to $100, sources said.
Using the stolen information, Michel "lived a lavish lifestyle, including the multimillion dollar home in . . . , the half million dollar pension account, the fancy cars and designer purses," Kelly said.
Typically, Michel would drive up during the night shift "in her new Mercedes, dressed to the nines," and show the staff one of many phony business cards, one source said.
Before she was sentenced, Michel told Bianco, "I had in my heart to help people. . . . If I were sitting on the jury I would convict myself. . . . I don't understand a lot of things that happened." Michel's attorney, David Bythewood, said he planned an appeal.