[HOUSTON, TEXAS]—Kenneth Ibezim Anokam, 57, a naturalized United States citizen from the Federal Republic of Nigeria has been handed a 151-month federal prison term for his role in a massive health care fraud conspiracy that billed the Medicare and Medicaid programs for more than $45 million over a 2 ½ year period, United States Attorney Kenneth Magidson announced today.
Anokam was found guilty of one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud, 27 counts of health care fraud and four counts of structuring to avoid reporting requirements by a Houston jury on May 27, 2011, following an almost three-week trial. Anokam was an employee and person in charge at City Nursing, where the fraud occurred. The owner of City Nursing, Umawa Oke Imo and Dr. Christina Joy Clardy, under whose Medicare and Medicaid provider numbers City Nursing billed the fraudulent claims, were also convicted at trial and sentenced to 327 and 135 months, respectively.
Joann Michelle White, an employee of City Nursing who pleaded guilty in February 2010, received a 46-month sentence. Godwin Chiedo Nzeocha, who was charged with Anokam with conspiracy to commit health care fraud, health care fraud, mail fraud and money laundering, was returned to Houston earlier this week from Nigeria to face the charges after federal agents were unable to arrest him in 2009. Nzeocha is presumed innocent until convicted through due process of law.
In arriving at Anokam’s sentence today, United States District Court Judge Melinda Harmon, who presided over the trial, considered Anokam’s role as a manager and supervisor at City Nursing, as well as the amount of fraud committed through the conspiracy. Judge Harmon sentenced Anokam to 120 months for the conspiracy conviction and each of the health care fraud convictions which will all be served concurrently.
He also received an additional 31 months for each of the structuring charges, to be served concurrent to each other but consecutive to the 120-month sentence—for a total sentence of 151 months in federal prison. Judge Harmon further ordered he pay restitution in the amount of $16,817,015.95 to Medicare and $2,230,530.95 to Medicaid, joint and several to the other convicted members of the conspiracy.
According to last year’s trial testimony, Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries were paid cash for going to City Nursing and signing undated blank treatment forms which were subsequently completed by Anokam and other City Nursing employees to reflect physical therapy treatment that was not provided. City Nursing employees who testified on behalf of the United States described how they handed out cash, usually $100-$150, given to them by Imo and Anokam to beneficiaries and “recruiters” also known as “marketers,” for coming to the clinic. Generally, beneficiaries were paid once a month when they came to City Nursing to see the doctor; however, those beneficiaries who took Medicare Explanation of Benefit statements into the office to complain about the fraudulent billing were given extra payments, sometimes $200-$300 to “settle” matters.
Anokam was one of the managers who dealt with the complaining beneficiaries with Medicare statements.
Despite billing more than $45 million for physical therapy services, the evidence at trial established there was never a single licensed or otherwise qualified physical therapist at City Nursing. One Medicare beneficiary testified that when she asked the doctor at City Nursing for physical therapy she was told the clinic did not provide that type of service and to go to her primary care physician for a referral to another clinic. Another Medicare beneficiary described the clinic as looking like an unemployment office with people just hanging out and referred to a day when he saw an employee direct a patient to make a pot of coffee.
The investigation into City Nursing was the result of the joint efforts by Special Agents of the FBI, Internal Revenue Service—Criminal Investigations, the Department of Health and Human Services—Office of Inspector General and investigators from the Texas Attorney general’s office—Medicaid Fraud Control Unit. Assistant United States Attorneys Julie Redlinger and Mark Donnelly prosecuted the case.
Assistant United States Attorney Kristine Rollinson assisted with forfeiture and restitution.
SOURCE: 7TH SPACE INTERACTIVE