A woman branded by prosecutors as the “matriarch of patient brokers” for a Hollywood hospital that fleeced about $40 million from Medicare has been freed by a federal judge in a rare ruling that spares her from spending potentially the rest of her life in prison.
U.S. District Judge Cecilia Altonaga threw out a Miami jury’s guilty verdicts against Tiffany Foster, 49, saying the trial evidence showed that she had “withdrawn” from the scheme to bilk Medicare more than five years before prosecutors filed an indictment against her and others in May 2014.
As a result, Foster should not have been charged because the statute of limitation for that period had already run out. Altonaga concluded that Foster “cannot be punished for the offenses for which she was convicted.”
The clock was ticking for Foster, who faced up to 25 years in prison at her sentencing on April 30.
Foster’s defense lawyers said they were “elated” with the judge’s answer to their post-verdict bid for acquittal — almost always a long shot.
“It is an important decision not only for Tiffany, but for anybody who has made mistakes in the past and long since moved beyond them,” said Miami attorney Marshall Dore Louis, who worked on the defense with Hilary Metz.
Foster, who received $500,000 in payments for supplying patients to the Hollywood psychiatric hospital, was released Thursday from the federal detention center in downtown Miami after the judge’s ruling. She had been detained by Altonaga in February after the 12-person jury found her guilty of two conspiracies: defrauding the taxpayer-funded Medicare program and receiving kickbacks from the Hollywood facility.
In her ruling, Altonaga highlighted Foster’s interview in March 2009 with FBI agents, who accused her of not coming clean about her criminal involvement in Hollywood Pavilion’s Medicare racket before she had left the facility four years earlier.
Altonaga questioned the testimony of an FBI agent at trial, concluding that “Foster made multiple disclosures of criminal activities at HP [in her interview], including the recycling of patients, the defrauding of Medicare, and threats to withhold money from patients if they failed to return.”
The Justice Department, which strongly opposed Louis’ post-verdict motion for acquittal, said Friday that it is reviewing the judge’s ruling.
In February, prosecutors won a major conviction against the lead defendant, Aventura psychiatrist Barry Kaplowitz, 54, for lying about providing treatment for purported mental health patients whom he never saw at Hollywood Pavilion. However, he was acquitted of the main conspiracy charge to defraud Medicare.
Kaplowitz had worked part time as the medical director of Hollywood Pavilion's outpatient facility from 2008 to 2011 before his arrest last year. He now faces up to five years in prison at his sentencing on April 30.
The same jury convicted Foster, an Alabama resident who last worked as a marketing contractor for the Broward County facility a decade ago.
A third defendant, Melvin Hunter, 63, of Broward, who had worked as an inpatient admissions supervisor during the past decade, was acquitted.
A fourth defendant, Christopher Gabel, 62, of Davie, the former chief operating officer, pleaded guilty in November to conspiring to commit healthcare fraud and pay kickbacks to patient recruiters. Gabel, who is serving a six-year prison term, testified that Medicare beneficiaries — including drug addicts with disability status — were admitted regardless of whether they qualified for treatment or even saw a doctor.
The latest trial followed the 2013 conviction of Hollywood Pavilion's chief executive officer, Karen Kallen-Zury of Lighthouse Point, who was found guilty along with three other employees of conspiring to bilk $67 million from Medicare by filing phony claims for mental health services from 2003 to 2012. Medicare was tricked into paying about $40 million to Hollywood Pavilion. Of those defendants, Kallen-Zury received the longest sentence: 25 years.