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Justice Dept. charges 14 in crackdown on COVID-19 fraud

January 31, 2020
National Institutes of Health official Dr. Anthony Fauci (C) speaks about the coronavirus during a press briefing at the White House in Washington, D.C. Health and Human Services Secretary Alexander Azar (L) announced that the United States is declaring the virus a public health emergency and issued a federal quarantine order of 14 days for 195 Americans. Photo by Leigh Vogel/UPI | License Photo

May 27 (UPI) -- The Justice Department has announced charges against more than a dozen medical professionals and businessmen accused of running COVID-19-related healthcare schemes resulting in more than $143 million in false Medicare billings.

Fourteen people in Arkansas, California, Florida, Louisiana, New Jersey and New York were charged Wednesday for perpetrating various healthcare fraud schemes designed to exploit the coronavirus pandemic, the Justice Department said in a statement.

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"The multiple healthcare fraud schemes charged today describe theft from American taxpayers through the exploitation of the national emergency," Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said. "These medical professionals, corporate executives and others allegedly took advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic to line their own pockets instead of providing needed healthcare benefits programs created to assist them during this national emergency."

The prosecutors said several of the defendants offered COVID-19 tests at senior living facilities, drive-through testing sites and medical offices in order to obtain the personal information as well as saliva and blood samples of their victims that they would then use to submit claims to Medicare for medically unnecessary but costly lab tests, including cancer genetic testing.

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They added that some of the victims never received the results of their COVID-19 test, putting their lives at risk.

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The proceeds of the scheme, the Justice Department said, were then laundered through shell companies.

Another scheme some of the accused committed consisted of exploiting Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services' rules put in place to limit patients' potential exposure to the coronavirus by permitting certain medical care to be received without the need of traveling to a medical facility.

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The accused medical professionals submitted false claims for tele-services they never rendered, the prosecutors said, adding that they also paid bribes for referrals of medically unnecessary testing.

"It's clear fraudsters see the COVID-19 pandemic as a money-making opportunity -- creating schemes to victimize beneficiaries and steal from federal healthcare programs," said Deputy Inspector General for Investigations Gary L. Cantrell of Health and Human Services.

In connection to the charges, Medicare separately announced it was taking action against some 50 medical clinics for their involved in COVID-19 related healthcare fraud schemes.

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