Federal agents round up South Florida doctor and others in Medicare fraud takedown

05/12/2014 11:36 AM

05/12/2014 8:50 PM

When about 20 newly arrested Medicare fraud suspects appeared in Miami federal court on Monday, one stood out: Dr. Barry Kaplowitz.

The Aventura psychiatrist served as the medical director of an outpatient mental health facility in Hollywood that federal prosecutors say generated $7.5 million in false claims for Medicare patients who did not need psychiatric treatment.

So when Justice Department attorneys asked Magistrate Judge Patrick White to give the former Hollywood Pavilion doctor a bond of $300,000, he balked. The judge thought the amount was too low, so he doubled it to $600,000 — and ordered Kaplowitz to make a nonrefundable down payment of $45,000 on the bond.

“I think it’s worse for a doctor to be involved in healthcare fraud,” White declared. “It’s outrageous.”

Kaplowitz’s defense attorney, Brian Bieber, argued the higher bond was unfair, claiming the doctor was paid only $1,250 a month for his part-time services over the course of four years at Hollywood Pavilion.

But the judge would not budge, recognizing that Medicare fraud has been South Florida’s No. 1 federal crime for years.

Afterward, Bieber described his client as a “well-respected” doctor who has properly treated thousands of patients in South Florida.

Early Monday, federal agents arrested the 53-year-old Kaplowitz, along with Hollywood Pavilion’s former chief operating officer, Christopher Gabel, and an administrator responsible for admitting patients to HP’s inpatient facility, Melvin Hunter. Also charged was Tiffany Foster, a patient recruiter from Alabama.

On Monday, they were among about 20 suspects charged with fleecing the taxpayer-funded Medicare program for the elderly and disabled. Squads of agents with the FBI, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General and other law enforcement agencies led what has become a periodic takedown of alleged Medicare fraud offenders in South Florida.

Since 2007, the Justice Department has teamed up with the U.S. attorney’s office in Miami to prosecute upward of 1,500 defendants in South Florida, ranging from Medicare-licensed clinic operators and patient recruiters to doctors and nurses. Collectively, the vast majority have been convicted of filing more than $3 billion in false claims for medical equipment, drug-infusion services, home healthcare, physical therapy and mental health treatment.

In the Hollywood Pavilion case, Kaplowitz, Gabel and Hunter were charged by Justice Department prosecutor Nicholas Surmacz with conspiring to commit healthcare fraud, wire fraud and related offenses. Gabel, Hunter and Foster were charged with conspiring to pay or receive kickbacks to generate Medicare patients at Hollywood Pavilion.

The magistrate judge ordered the same high bond terms for Gabel, 61, as he did for Kaplowitz: $600,000, including a $45,000 nonrefundable down payment.

Gabel’s defense attorney, Jeffrey Neiman, argued that his client, who lives in Davie, has longtime ties to the community. He said he would not flee before trial, noting that Gabel has been aware of the Hollywood Pavilion investigation for two years. He said Gabel made $150,000 a year as the Hollywood-based facility’s chief operating officer over a decade, and argued that he “didn’t directly profit” from the alleged scheme to defraud Medicare.

Again, the judge was not swayed.

Neiman declined to comment about his client.

As for Hunter, accused of admitting Medicare patients who did not need psychiatric treatment, the judge was more lenient — but not much. The judge set his bond at $300,000 — but the Broward resident has to come up with a $15,000 nonrefundable down payment.

Their arrests followed last year’s conviction of Hollywood Pavilion’s chief executive officer, Karen Kallen-Zury, who was found guilty along with three other employees of conspiring to bilk $67 million from Medicare by filing bogus claims for mental health services from 2003 to 2012. Medicare was duped into paying $40 million to Hollywood Pavilion, which operated an inpatient hospital and outpatient program.

A Miami federal jury found that Kallen-Zury and other employees covered up the scam by falsifying patient records to make their treatment look necessary, and fabricated marketing contracts with patient recruiters to make their services appear legitimate. The jury also found that Kallen-Zury and others paid kickbacks to recruiters who supplied Hollywood Pavilion with patients.

At her trial, Justice Department prosecutors described the Hollywood-based psychiatric facility as a “brothel of fraud.”

For her leadership role, Kallen-Zury got, by far, the longest sentence: The former CEO, who once lived along the water in Lighthouse Point, was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

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