More than 400 suspects nationwide have been charged with falsely billing $1.3 billion to the taxpayer-funded Medicare program as well as some private insurers, including about 80 defendants in South Florida — the country's epicenter of healthcare fraud, federal authorities said Thursday.
Of the total nationwide, more than 100 suspects work as doctors, nurses and other medical professionals, who are charged with conspiracy and related offenses to defraud the massive government health insurance program.
At a press conference in Washington, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions highlighted the roles of medical professionals in the largest take-down of healthcare fraud offenders in the nation's history, while zeroing in on the alleged exploitation of patients with opioid addictions in South Florida and other regions.
“Too many trusted medical professionals like doctors, nurses and pharmacists have chosen to violate their oaths and put greed ahead of their patients,” Sessions said Thursday. “Amazingly, some have made their practices into multimillion-dollar criminal enterprises. They seem oblivious to the disastrous consequences of their greed.
“Their actions not only enrich themselves often at the expense of taxpayers but also feed addictions and cause addictions to start,” he said. “The consequences are real: emergency rooms, jail cells, futures lost and graveyards.”
The latest total of defendants and false claims far surpassed last year's healthcare fraud take-down, which has become an annual show of force to combat the persistent problem that has cost the U.S. government billions of dollars in losses over the past decade. Hundreds of federal agents with the FBI and Health and Human Services-Office of Inspector General were deployed to make arrests on Thursday and in recent days.
In South Florida alone, the roughly 80 newly charged defendants were accused of submitting more than $140 million in fraudulent claims to Medicare and some private insurance companies for services that were either not necessary or provided, according to the U.S. attorney's office in Miami.
Authorities spotlighted a Palm Beach County sober home and treatment facility for addicts with substance abuse problems, saying the owner with the assistance of a patient recruiter submitted $58 million in private insurance claims for bogus drug treatment over the past five years.
According to an FBI criminal complaint, owner Eric Snyder and recruiter Christopher Fuller conspired to lure addicted patients to Halfway There Florida, a sober home in Delray Beach, and to Real Life Recovery Delray, to bill insurance companies for fraudulent treatment and testing.
In exchange, the two defendants are accused of paying kickbacks to patients, including gift cards, free airline travel, trips to casinos and strip clubs, along with drugs, the complaint said. Both were recently granted bail; Fuller, 32, has a federal court arraignment at the end of July and Snyder, 30, in early August.
Fuller’s attorney, assistant federal public defender Kristy Militello, could not be reached for comment.
Synder’s defense lawyer, Bruce Zimet, said his client’s business was searched by federal agents more than two years ago.
“Since the search warrant was issued, we’ve had several discussions with the government about the facts of this case and we hope to have more discussions in the future,” Zimet told the Miami Herald Thursday.
“We are hopeful that we will be able to persuade the government not to proceed with a grand jury indictment in this case.”
The FBI complaint, filed by prosecutor James Hayes, described Broward and Palm Beach counties as hubs for drug and alcohol addicts seeking assistance to become sober, resulting in illicit activity among some sober homes and treatment facilities.
“News reports estimate treatment for substance abuse is Palm Beach County’s largest industry, with revenues in excess of $1 billion a year,” the complaint said.