FBI indicts CEOs, COOs in $1.2B telemarketing scam that targeted Medicare recipients

The FBI announced on Tuesday that it has charged 24 individuals, including CEOs and COOs of medical equipment companies, with participation in one of the largest health care fraud schemes in U.S. history against Medicare recipients.

FBI agents said a slew of executives at five telemedicine companies and owners of dozens of durable medical equipment (DME) companies along with three doctors have been charged with health care fraud involving more than $1.2 billion in losses.

“Today, one of the largest health care fraud schemes in U.S. history came to an end thanks to close collaboration and coordination between the FBI and partners including HHS-OIG and IRS-CI,” FBI Assistant Director Robert Johnson said in a statement.

The alleged scheme involved the payment of illegal kickbacks and bribes by DME companies in exchange for the referral of Medicare beneficiaries by medical professionals who were working with fraudulent telemedicine companies for back, shoulder, wrist and knee braces that “are medically unnecessary.”

The scam relied on telemarketers scattered throughout the Philippines and Latin America to seek out elderly patients eligible for Medicare using television and radio ads, as well as cold calls, by promising them “free or low-cost” braces.

The defendants allegedly paid doctors to prescribe medical equipment without any patient interaction or with only a brief phone call.

The profits were then laundered through international shell corporations and used to purchase exotic automobiles, yachts and luxury real estate in the U.S. and abroad.

“These defendants — who range from corporate executives to medical professionals — allegedly participated in an expansive and sophisticated fraud to exploit telemedicine technology meant for patients otherwise unable to access health care,” Assistant Attorney General Benczkowski said in a statement on Tuesday.

Federal officials said more than 80 search warrants in 17 federal districts were needed throughout the investigation.  Those charged reside all across the country, including in Florida, New Jersey, Texas, North Carolina, South Carolina, California and New York.