DOJ levels charges against 21 healthcare providers for COVID-related fraud

The U.S. Department of Justice is taking healthcare business owners to task for defrauding patients during the COVID-19 pandemic and manufacturing fake COVID vaccination cards.

The DOJ announced criminal charges against 21 business owners, physicians and marketers around the country on Wednesday, including in Western Washington. According to the department, these cases defrauded the government of more than $149 million in false COVID-related billings through federal programs.

"This COVID-19 health care fraud enforcement action involves extraordinary efforts to prosecute some of the largest and most wide-ranging pandemic frauds detected to date," said COVID-19 fraud enforcement director Kevin Chambers. "The scale and complexity of the schemes prosecuted today illustrates the success of our unprecedented interagency effort to quickly investigate and prosecute those who abuse our critical health care programs."

In Washington, U.S. Attorney Nick Brown charged a manufacturer who was reportedly involved in a multi-state distribution ring of fake COVID vaccination cards. According to the DOJ, the person told an undercover federal agent, "Until I get caught and go to jail, f*** it, I’m taking the money, ha! I don’t care."

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"Throughout the pandemic, we have seen trusted medical professionals orchestrate and carry out egregious crimes against their patients all for financial gain," said FBI criminal investigation assistant director, Luis Quesada. "These health care fraud abuses erode the integrity and trust patients have with those in the health care industry, particularly during a vulnerable and worrisome time for many individuals. The actions of these criminals are unacceptable, and the FBI, working in coordination with our law enforcement partners, will continue to investigate and pursue those who exploit the integrity of the health care industry for profit."

Other cases announced Wednesday include healthcare businesses having patients provide personal information and blood samples, which were then used to submit false claims to Medicare to bill unrelated and expensive medical tests, or lengthy office visits that never happened.

Some of these schemes netted businesses hundreds of millions of dollars, much of which was laundered through shell corporations to foreign counties, then used to buy real estate and luxury items.

Others still were charged with misappropriating CARES Act funding intended for frontline medical providers.

"The attempt to profit from the COVID-19 pandemic by targeting beneficiaries and stealing from federal health care programs is unconscionable," said HHS Inspector General Christi A. Grimm. "[Office of Inspector General, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services are] proud to work alongside our law enforcement partners at the federal and state levels to ensure that bad actors who perpetrate egregious and harmful crimes are held accountable."

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