Montgomery, Alabama – U.S. Attorney George L. Beck Jr., Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange, United States Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch, and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell, announced today an unprecedented nationwide sweep led by the Medicare Fraud Strike Force in 36 federal districts, resulting in criminal and civil charges against 301 individuals, including 61 doctors, nurses and other licensed medical professionals, for their alleged participation in health care fraud schemes involving approximately $900 million in false billings. Twenty-three state Medicaid Fraud Control Units also participated in today’s arrests. In addition, the HHS Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) is suspending payment to a number of providers using its suspension authority provided in the Affordable Care Act. This coordinated takedown is the largest in history, both in terms of the number of defendants charged and loss amount.
“As this takedown should make clear, health care fraud is not an abstract violation or benign offense – It is a serious crime,” said Attorney General Lynch. “The wrongdoers that we pursue in these operations seek to use public funds for private enrichment. They target real people – many of them in need of significant medical care. They promise effective cures and therapies, but they provide none. Above all, they abuse basic bonds of trust – between doctor and patient; between pharmacist and doctor; between taxpayer and government – and pervert them to their own ends. The Department of Justice is determined to continue working to ensure that the American people know that their health care system works for them – and them alone.”
As a part of the nationwide takedown, U.S. Attorney Beck and Attorney General Strange announce the arrests of two Dothan, Alabama-area residents on charges of defrauding the Alabama Medicaid Agency and the federal government by billing for counseling services that were never provided.
Catrina R. Copeland, 43, of Dothan, was the owner of The Counseling Place, a Dothan company that contracted with the Alabama Medicaid Agency to provide counseling services to at risk youth. Stephanie Govan, 41, a resident of Glenwood, was employed by Copeland as a counselor. Both were arrested on June 21, 2016 by agents of the Alabama Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit and the HHS’s Office of Inspector General.
A federal grand jury indicted Copeland and Govan in April of 2016 following an investigation by the Alabama Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit. The grand jury charges include counts against each individual for conspiracy to commit healthcare fraud. This alleged fraud is based upon evidence that indicates Copeland and Govan billed the Medicaid Agency for counseling services that were never actually provided. If convicted, each could be sentenced for up to ten years in prison.
An indictment merely alleges that crimes have been committed. The defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
The Dothan, Alabama case was investigated by the Alabama Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit and the HHS’s Office of Inspector General. Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan S. Ross and Assistant Attorney General Bruce Lieberman are prosecuting the case.
“Health care fraud robs all of us by resulting in increased medical costs, health insurance premiums, and eventually, higher taxes,” stated U.S. Attorney Beck. “Medical providers need to know there is no ‘safe harbor’ from lying and cheating.”
“Those who choose to commit heath care fraud do so at the expense of the most vulnerable of our society who are dependent upon these programs,” said Attorney General Strange. “Protecting taxpayer resources is a high priority of my office and I am pleased to join the U.S. Attorney George Beck in targeting costly Medicaid fraud.”
The Medicare Fraud Strike Force operations are part of the Health Care Fraud Prevention & Enforcement Action Team (HEAT), a joint initiative announced in May 2009 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 Medicare Fraud Strike Force operates in nine locations and since its inception in March 2007 has charged over 2,900 defendants who collectively have falsely billed the Medicare program for over $8.9 billion.
Including today’s enforcement actions, nearly 1,200 individuals have been charged in national takedown operations, which have involved more than $3.4 billion in fraudulent billings. Today’s announcement marks the second time that districts outside of Strike Force locations participated in a national takedown, and they accounted for 82 defendants charged in this takedown.
The cases announced today are being prosecuted and investigated by U.S. Attorney’s Offices nationwide, along with Medicare Fraud Strike Force teams from the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and from the U.S. Attorney’s Offices of the Southern District of Florida, Eastern District of Michigan, Eastern District of New York, Southern District of Texas, Central District of California, Eastern District of Louisiana, Northern District of Texas, Northern District of Illinois and the Middle District of Florida; and agents from the FBI, HHS-OIG, Drug Enforcement Administration, DCIS and state Medicaid Fraud Control Units.
The court documents for each case will posted online, as they become available, here: https://www.justice.gov/opa/documents-and-resources-june-22-2016-medicare-fraud-strike-force-press-conference