Miami Jury Convicts Owner of Health Care Fraud
Patients Sending Unneeded Medicine Paid for by Medicare to Cuba.
WASHINGTON – The owner of a Miami health care company has been convicted on charges of defrauding the Medicare program, Assistant Attorney General Alice S. Fisher of the Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney R. Alexander Acosta of the Southern District of Florida announced today.
After a four-day trial in Miami, the federal jury found Eulalia Gonzalez, owner of Rapid Fast Health, Inc., guilty on five counts – conspiracy to defraud the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and submit false claims and pay kickbacks, conspiracy to commit health care fraud, and three counts of paying kickbacks. Gonzalez faces a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison. She is scheduled to be sentenced on February 28, 2008, before U.S. District Judge Paul C. Huck.
At trial, convicted Medicare fraud physician Zabdy Westerburger testified that Gonzalez paid her cash kickbacks between 2001 and 2004 to write unnecessary prescriptions for “compounded” aerosol medications and other durable medical equipment. The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services stopped paying for compounded aerosols in June 2007, stating it was medically unnecessary. The United States introduced three separate video recordings of Gonzalez paying Westerburger for bogus prescriptions.
Two pharmacy owners testified that Gonzalez would deliver the false prescriptions to them and their pharmacies would compound the medications for the purpose of defrauding Medicare. The pharmacy owners reached an arrangement with Gonzalez to split any monies paid by Medicare. Medicare paid approximately half a million dollars based on prescriptions obtained by Gonzalez. In addition, Gonzalez billed Medicare directly for all other unnecessary durable medical equipment.
A patient testified at trial that after she received her $100 a month cash kickback from Gonzalez, she would send all the medicine to Cuba because she did not need it. This same patient testified that Gonzalez recruited her and many other senior citizens to provide their Medicare cards by offering them $100 per month. Gonzalez would then drive patients to visit Westerburger and other corrupt doctors where she would buy phony prescriptions.
Trial testimony established that none of the “compounded” medications, including Albuterol, Metaproterenol, and Ipatropium Bromide, which were billed to Medicare were legitimate. These medications are intended to be introduced into the lung through a piece of durable medical equipment known as a nebulizer. Medicare pays for such aerosol medication through the Part B program.
The case was prosecuted by Assistant Deputy Chief John Kelly and Special Trial Attorney Arianne Callender of the Fraud Section of the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., with the investigative assistance of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Inspector General, and the FBI. The prosecution resulted from the establishment of the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, a multi-agency team of federal, state and local investigators in south Florida designed specifically to combat Medicare fraud. The Strike Force is led by a Kirk Ogrosky, Deputy Chief of the Fraud Section in Washington and the office of U.S. Attorney R. Alexander Acosta of the Southern District of Florida.
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