An 82-year-old businesswoman who had been recognized for her accomplishments in the healthcare field by the Latin Chamber of Commerce in Miami pleaded guilty on Monday to paying kickbacks to doctors and others to fleece millions of dollars from the federal Medicare program.
Martha Lima opted for the plea deal rather than go ahead with a trial to limit her potential prison sentence. In late January, she faces up to five years in prison on the lone conviction of conspiring to pay bribes to generate patients for her now-defunct company, according to the agreement reached by her attorney, Jose Quinon, and the U.S. attorney’s office.
Lima, who had received an entrepreneurial award from the Latin Chamber of Commerce of the United States (CAMACOL) in 2013, submitted her resignation from the group’s board of directors in mid-October,just before the Miami Herald reported on her Medicare fraud scheme.
Her son, Luis, 56, also pleaded guilty Monday to conspiring to defraud the taxpayer-funded program for the elderly and disabled. He faces up to 20 years in prison but is expected to receive much less time because of his plea and cooperation with authorities, according to his attorney, Luis Fernandez.
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According to the indictment, Martha Lima opened Continuous Home Care Services in 2005, purportedly providing skilled nursing services, physical therapy and other aid to home-bound Medicare patients. That same year, she also founded a charity, Bridge of Love and Hope.
Both the mother and son were initially accused of conspiring to submit “false and fraudulent claims” to Medicare, “concealing” the program's payments and “diverting fraud proceeds for the personal use and benefit of themselves and others.”
Both were also initially charged with paying kickbacks to doctors for patient referrals, which required signing off on “plans of care” for patients who purportedly needed healthcare services at home because they were physically unable to visit a medical office.
The mother and her co-conspirators also paid thousands of dollars in kickbacks to patient recruiters who provided a steady stream of Medicare patients to Continuous, the indictment said. And, they paid bribes to Continuous patients, using the charity, Bridge of Love and Hope, as a conduit, prosecutor Amanda Perwin alleged.
Perwin is seeking to recover $16.3 million from the Limas in a forfeiture action, which represents their total claims submitted to Medicare.