Jury Convicts Patient Recruiter of Medicare Fraud in Power Wheelchair Scam

FRESNO, Calif.
Published: March 6, 2010

A federal jury in Los Angeles has convicted a Fresno woman of Medicare fraud involving recruiting patients for the purpose of receiving unnecessary power wheelchairs, the Department of Justice announced.

After a one-week trial in federal court in Los Angeles, the jury found 57-year-old Maria Nela Moreno guilty on Feb. 26 of multiple counts of health-care fraud. Moreno had solicited Medicare beneficiaries by meeting with groups of seniors and going door-to-door at low-income, senior living communities near Fresno.

Moreno recruited beneficiaries to receive expensive, high-end power wheelchairs that the beneficiaries did not need. Several beneficiaries testified that Moreno wore a badge with her picture on it that appeared to resemble a hospital identification badge.

Moreno then tricked them into giving her their identification cards and Medicare insurance numbers by telling the beneficiaries they should take a power wheelchair, because Medicare would soon run out of money, according to testimony.

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Moreno copied the beneficiaries’ identification cards and Medicare insurance numbers with the portable scanner. Each power wheelchair, which could be purchased for less than $1,000 wholesale, resulted in approximately $6,000 in false claims. Witnesses testified that at the Elderberry Apartments in Sanger, one of the locations where Moreno and her co-conspirators illegally recruited beneficiaries to receive power wheelchairs, many residents left the wheelchairs unused.

Witnesses testified at trial that they took the beneficiary information they received from Moreno to a fraudulent medical clinic in Los Angeles, which then used the information to create bogus prescriptions. Witnesses testified that they purchased the fraudulent power wheelchair prescriptions and medical documents from the clinic, and then sold them for more than $1,000 per prescription to durable medical equipment (DME) supply companies in and around Los Angeles. Moreno was in turn paid a kickback for each power wheelchair that the DME companies were able to fraudulently bill Medicare, using the beneficiary information Moreno obtained.

One of the DME supply companies that billed Medicare using the identities of Moreno’s recruits was Cooper Medical Supply of Canoga Park, Calif. Trial evidence established that between January 2006 and September 2009, Cooper Medical Supply submitted approximately $828,835 in false and fraudulent claims to Medicare, almost all of which were for power wheelchairs. Trial evidence established that additional DME companies across southern California also purchased prescriptions that were from the beneficiaries recruited by Mareno. Cooper Medical Supply’s owner, Ajibola Sadiqr, previously pleaded guilty to Medicare fraud and is scheduled for sentencing in April.

U.S. District Court Judge John Walter of the Central District of Los Angeles scheduled Moreno’s sentencing for May 10. She faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each count of conspiracy and health care fraud for which she was convicted.

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