LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — Twelve people were arrested Tuesday on charges of health care fraud in seven criminal cases in which the defendants stand accused of attempting to bilk Medicare for more than $22 million collectively in false claims.
The 12 arrested are all Los Angeles-area residents. A thirteenth defendant is a former Carson resident believed to be in Nigeria.
Among the defendants is a 40-year-old Agoura Hills man alleged to have billed Medicare for more than $1.7 million for treatments at a Sylmar medical practice that were never performed.
Prosecutors allege that from 2005 to 2012, Dr. Houshang Pavehzadeh became the state’s second-largest biller for chiropractic services, despite being out of the country when some of the services were performed.
In addition to fraud, Dr. Pavehzadeh is charged with aggravated identity theft in connection to information taken from Medicare beneficiaries in order to file false claims. When authorities tried to conduct an audit, federal prosecutors said Dr. Pavehzadeh lied to Los Angeles Police, claiming that he had been carjacked and patient files had been stolen from his vehicle.
Other cases include $5.9 million in fraudulent billing between 2008 to 2011 by ProMed Medical Transportation, a Gardena-based ambulance company. Authorities say the company’s owner and two employees created fraudulent documentation to support claims for medical transportation services that were unwarranted.
Nine of the defendants are alleged to have participated in fraud that involved billing for equipment that was medically unnecessary, particularly power wheelchairs.
In one case, three people are charged with billing Medicare for more than $8.3 million mostly related to power wheelchairs through Lutemi Medical Supplies.
The company’s owner, 41-year-old registered nurse Olufunke Fadojutimi of Carson, allegedly laundered money together with 41-year-old Ayodeji Temitayo Fatunmbi to pay for fraudulent prescriptions for the devices and recruit Medicare beneficiaries through illegal kickbacks.
Fatunmbi is believed to be in Nigeria and the U.S. Attorney’s Office has said she is a fugitive.
The charges come as part of a federal Medicare Fraud Strike Force operating in eight cities nationwide. Eighty-nine people have been charged as a part of the crackdown, which federal prosecutors say involves a total estimated at $223 million in fraudulent claims.
The charges filed Tuesday in Los Angeles federal court carry sentences ranging from a mandatory two-year prison term for aggravated identity theft, to as many as 20 years in prison for money laundering. Individuals convicted of health care fraud face a maximum penalty of 10 years in federal prison.
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