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UPDATE: Valencia woman arrested in nationwide Medicare fraud sweep

Posted: October 4, 2012 3:48 p.m.
Updated: October 4, 2012 7:33 p.m.
 

A Valencia woman was arrested Thursday, one of 18 people rounded countywide and 91 arrested nationwide as part of a crackdown on Medicare fraud in seven cities involving $429 million in false billings.

At a news conference Thursday in Washington, D.C., Attorney General Eric Holder said the case reveals an alarming trend in criminal efforts to steal billions of taxpayer dollars for personal gain. Holder called the nationwide police action by the FBI one of the largest such law enforcement efforts of its kind.

Among those charged are Heidi Morishita, 51, of Ashwood Place in Valencia, who was arrested at her home about 5:30 a.m. as FBI agents with guns drawn descended on the two-story residence.

Residents reported seeing a man and two youths being placed in handcuffs, but FBI agents named only a Morishita among those arrested in the sweep.

She was among 18 Los Angeles-area residents — including three doctors and one physical therapist — charged in six local cases for their alleged roles in schemes to submit more than $65 million in false billing to Medicare.

Nationwide, 91 people were arrested, including the president of an unnamed hospital in Houston charged with participating along with six other people in $158 million in fraudulent billings for community mental health services.

In Dallas, two doctors and two registered nurses were charged with participating in over $103 million in false billings. In Brooklyn, a doctor and four chiropractors allegedly participated in $23 million in false billings.

The law enforcement effort focused on fraudulent Medicare schemes in Baton Rouge, La.; Brooklyn, N.Y.; Chicago; Dallas; Houston; Los Angeles and Miami.

The more than $65 million in fraudulent billing from the Los Angeles cases is believed to be the highest amount of false Medicare billing in a single Los Angeles take-down in strike force history, the FBI reported.

Morishita, her husband and two teenage children, a boy and girl, moved into the Valencia neighborhood about five years ago, one resident said.

“She told us she works with end-of-life people and works odd hours,” she said.

In the case involving Morishita, an Ontario couple — Victoria Onyeabor, 52, and her husband, Godwin Onyeabor, 49, who own Fendih Medical Supplies in San Bernardino — was charged with conspiring with Dr. Sri J.

Wijegunaratne, also known as “Dr. J,” 57, of Anaheim, to commit health care fraud, the FBI revealed Thursday.

The Onyeabors, according to the FBI, received prescriptions for medically unnecessary power wheelchairs from Wijegunaratne in return for kickbacks and used those prescriptions to submit more than $1.5 million in fraudulent billing to Medicare.

Morishita, who brought prescriptions to Fendih, conspired with Wijegunaratne and the Onyeabors in the payment and receipt of illegal kickbacks related to Fendih’s Medicare billing, the FBI said.

Wijegunaratne was also arrested Thursday morning.

Glenn R. Ferry, special agent in charge of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General, Los Angeles region, said: “It is exceedingly important that federal, state and local law enforcement be tightly coordinated and flexible enough to address health care fraud in its many evolving forms.

“So as in today’s actions, when ambulance companies, physical therapy operations, durable medical equipment companies, or other health organizations are suspected of breaking the law, they can expect swift justice.”

Those arrested in the FBI crackdown face a variety of criminal offenses, including conspiracy to commit health care fraud, a charge that carries a statutory maximum penalty of 10 years in federal prison.

jholt@the-signal.com
661-287-5527

 

 

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