MANILA, Philippines - Filipinos were among 20 suspects arrested for a health care scam in the United States, the US Department of Justice has said.
In a statement, the (US DOJ) said the 20 suspects arrested last Thursday are accused of being part of a group in California that defrauded health care provider Medi-Cal out of nearly $4.6 million or more than P222 million.
An Associated Press report quoted U.S. Attorney’s Office spokesman Thom Mrozek as saying that most of the people involved in the scam are Filipino citizens – half of whom are in the US illegally.
Filipino nurse Susan Bendigo, accused as one of the brains behind the scam, has reportedly fled the United States and is being suspected of hiding in the Philippines.
The US DOJ said the suspects were unlicensed individuals who faked their way into being hired to provide in-home care to disabled patients – mostly children with cerebral palsy or development disabilities.
“We believe that this is the largest single case alleging Medi-Cal fraud ever filed in the state," said US Attorney Thomas P. O’Brien in the statement. “The nearly four dozen people associated with this fraud ring not only cheated taxpayers, they endangered the lives of young people they promised to protect and care for."
The 20 were among 42 defendants named in a 41-count indictment released by a federal grand jury last June 25.
The US DOJ said the indictment is part of an investigation called “Operation License Integrity," a two-year investigation conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General, and the Office of the California Attorney General-Bureau of Medi-Cal Fraud and Elder Abuse.
Bendigo was described as an associate of Villabroza, accused as the organizer of the ring, who pleaded guilty in federal court last year to five counts of health care fraud.
Villabroza, according to court records, is a registered nurse who ran a Santa Fe Springs-based company called Medcare Plus Home Health Providers.
Bendigo, also a nurse who ran the Santa Fe Springs-based Medcare Plus subsidiary, fled the US last year after he was indicted, said the statement.
Villabroza, Bendigo and supervisors involved in the scheme allegedly directed the unlicensed nurse defendants to lie about their licensing and qualifications by telling the parents or guardians of the disabled Medi-Cal beneficiaries that they were LVNst.
"The unlicensed nurse defendants falsely presented themselves as professionals, concealed their unlicensed status from the parents or guardians of the disabled Medi-Cal beneficiaries, and in some cases affirmatively misrepresented themselves as LVNs," said the statement.
Court records indicated that from August 2004 through the end of 2007, the group hired unlicensed individuals who reportedly had foreign training but never passed a nursing exam in the United States. Some of them even had no medical training at all.
“Villabroza and her associates concocted a clever rip-off where they hired untrained and unlicensed nurses to provide care to children with serious health conditions," California Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. said.
The defendants are expected to be summoned to appear in court for arraignments in the coming weeks.
All of the defendants named in the indictment are charged with conspiracy to commit health care fraud, a felony count that carries a statutory maximum penalty of 10 years in federal prison.
All of the defendants are also named in at least one substantive count of healthcare fraud, a