Signage is seen at the United States Department of Justice headquarters in Washington, D.C., August 29, 2020.
Andrew Kelly | Reuters
The U.S. Department of Justice on Wednesday announced criminal charges against two people in California in a scheme that allegedly made $144 million in false and fraudulent health claims to federal programs for unnecessary Covid-19 tests.
The DOJ also announced criminal cases against 19 other defendants, among them doctors, a nurse, medical business executives and others, for an additional $8 million in false Covid-related billings to federal health programs and theft from federally funded pandemic assistance programs. Prosecutors also allege some defendants sold fake vaccination cards and bogus coronavirus cures.
The cases span nine federal court districts.
“Throughout the pandemic, we have seen trusted medical professionals orchestrate and carry out egregious crimes against their patients all for financial gain,” said Luis Quesada, assistant director of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division.
“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,” Quesada said.
In the major California case, the owners of a clinical laboratory, Imran Shams and Lourdes Navarro, both age 63, of Glendale, were charged with a health-care fraud, kickback and money laundering scheme that involved the fraudulent billing of over $214 million for laboratory tests.
More than $125 million of those billings allegedly involved fraudulent claims for Covid and respiratory pathogen tests that “were submitted without regard to medical necessity,” according to prosecutors.
“Shams and Navarro fraudulently concealed Shams’s role in the lab and his prior health care-related criminal convictions,” according to the DOJ. Shams has been barred from participating in the federal Medicare program for decades.
“The indictment also alleges that Shams and Navarro paid kickbacks to marketers who obtained specimens and test orders, and laundered the proceeds of the scheme through shell companies Navarro controlled, including by making expenditures on real estate, luxury items, and personal goods and services,” the Justice Department said.
In Washington state, a 53-year-old Parker, Colorado, resident, Robert Van Camp, was accused of using blank Covid-19 vaccination cards to forge and sell hundreds of fake vaccine record cards, which he sold to buyers and distributors in at least a dozen states, according to the DOJ.
“Van Camp allegedly told an undercover agent that he had sold cards to ‘people that are going to the Olympics in Tokyo, three Olympians and their coach in Tokyo, Amsterdam, Hawaii, Costa Rica, Honduras,'” the DOJ said in a news release.
Van Camp also allegedly told that agent, “I’ve got a company, a veterinary company, has 30 people going to Canada every f—— day, Canada back. Mexico is big. And like I said, I’m in 12 or 13 states, so until I get caught and go to jail, f— it, I’m taking the money, (laughs)! I don’t care,” the DOJ said.
Other defendants include a U.S. Postal Service worker, Lisa Hammell of Turnersville, New Jersey. Hammell is charged with creating fake Covid vaccine cards and printing them while at work.
Hammell, 39, is accused of selling at least 400 bogus vaccination cards to people who had not actually received Covid shots.
In separate cases in Maryland and Long Island, New York, owners of medical clinics are accused of obtaining confidential information from patients seeking coronavirus tests at drive-thru sites and in brief office visits, then submitting bogus claims to Medicare, Medicaid and other insurers for much longer office visits that did not actually happen.
In the Long Island case, Dr. Perry Frankel, 64, of Roslyn, N.Y., was charged with health-care fraud for more than $1.3 million in claims billed during the Covid pandemic.
Frankel’s lawyer Timothy Sini, in an emailed statement, called him a “respected cardiologist in the Long Island region who has saved lives by providing vital mobile medical screenings to law enforcement, school districts and many communities across Long Island and the five boroughs.”
“When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Dr. Frankel stepped up and brought much needed COVID-19 testing to the community. He has been recognized for his service by many, including the White House,” Sini said.
“The Government, as part of a larger initiative, is targeting healthcare providers who supposedly took advantage of the pandemic to benefit themselves financially. Nothing could be further from the truth here,” the lawyer said. “Dr. Frankel provided a much needed service during a public health crisis and an extremely challenging time. It is unfortunate that the government’s claims seek to undermine the positive nature of Dr. Frankel’s work. We look forward to pursuing justice for Dr. Frankel and clearing his name in the medical community.”
In the Maryland case, Ron Elfenbein, a 47-year-old from Arnold, was charged with health care fraud related to more than $1.5 million in claims that were billed in connection with COVID-19 testing.
In Utah, a former employee of the preflight Covid testing service XpresCheck in the Salt Lake City International Airport terminal was charged with wire fraud for giving counterfeit negative test results to people traveling through that airport.
The worker, 28-year-old Linda Tufui Toli of Salt Lake City, “allegedly intercepted calls from travelers who were seeking COVID testing services from XpresCheck prior to traveling to destinations such as Hawaii, Israel, and other locations which required travelers to provide negative COVID test results prior to departure,” the DOJ said.
“Toli allegedly canceled the travelers COVID tests through XpresCheck and arranged for travelers to purchase counterfeit negative COVID tests directly from her, and accepted payment for the counterfeit test results using electronic mobile payment services,” according to the DOJ.