Friday, September 30, 2016
WASHINGTON – A federal judge has ordered Speqtrum Inc., a home health care agency, to pay the United States $6.15 million in civil damages after ruling in the government’s favor in a lawsuit alleging that the company violated the False Claims Act by repeatedly and routinely falsifying records to obtain funds from Medicaid.
The judgment was announced today by U.S. Attorney Channing D. Phillips, Paul M. Abbate, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Washington Field Office, and Nicholas DiGiulio, Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG), for the region that includes Washington, D.C.
The United States filed suit against the company in 2010 and the case went to trial earlier this year in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. In February 2016, the Honorable James E. Boasberg ruled in favor of the government, and on September 23, 2016, he issued the order setting damages.
According to the government’s evidence, Speqtrum, Inc. is based in Upper Marlboro, Md., and operated in the District of Columbia. The company was a participating provider and received reimbursement from the District of Columbia’s Medicaid program.
Under the Medicaid program, Speqtrum, Inc. was initially approved to furnish elderly and disabled patients with assistance in the day-to-day activities of living, such as bathing, dressing, and taking needed medications. D.C. Medicaid, which is subsidized by the federal Medicaid program, paid for many of Speqtrum’s services for low-income patients.
The District of Columbia’s Department of Health Care Finance discovered irregularities in Speqtrum’s records during a routine audit in May 2009. A team consisting of Special Agents from the FBI’s Washington Field Office and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General then began an investigation, which included the execution of search warrants on Speqtrum’s offices in Washington, D.C. The documents collected confirmed that patient files contained forged signatures or falsified timesheets. One document contained various practice runs at forging a doctor’s signature – which later appeared in a patient file. Still other documents demonstrated that employees alerted Speqtrum’s President and Founder, Pauline Nnawuba, to the fact that high-level employees had been defrauding Medicaid on the company’s behalf, but Speqtrum failed to report the conduct to Medicaid. At the conclusion of the investigation, the United States filed the False Claims Act action, alleging a massive and routine pattern of fraud by high-level employees of Speqtrum.
In his decision to treble the initial $1.3 million damages awarded to the United States under the False Claims Act, and to further impose an additional $10,000 civil penalty for each of the 216 D.C. Medicaid invoices submitted by Speqtrum, Judge Boasberg found the loss to Medicaid to be “substantial,” and further found that Speqtrum’s conduct was “egregious and willful in its cooking of the books, overbilling for hours not worked, charging … for clients it did not service, and forging physician signatures on its paperwork.” Accordingly, Judge Boasberg awarded the United States a total of $6.15 million. The amount will be shared with the District of Columbia’s Medicaid program.
In announcing the judgment, U.S. Attorney Phillips, Assistant Director in Charge Abbate, and Special Agent in Charge DiGiulio commended the work of those who investigated the case from the FBI and HHS-OIG. They also expressed appreciation for the assistance provided by the District of Columbia Office of the Attorney General and the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit of the District of Columbia Office of the Inspector General. Finally, they acknowledged the efforts of those who worked on the case and brought it to trial from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, including Assistant U.S. Attorney Darrell C. Valdez and Paralegal Specialist Idongesit “Benji” Umo.
The lawsuit is captioned United States v. Speqtrum, Inc.,Civil Action 10-cv-2111 (D.D.C.).