On Tuesday the US Department of Justice announced that the Gulf Coast Health Care Fraud Strike Force will be expanded to include the Eastern District of Texas and will focus on Health Care Fraud and Illegal Opioid Prescriptions and Distribution.
The Department of Justice announced the expansion of the Criminal Division, Fraud Section’s existing Gulf Coast Health Care Fraud Strike Force to include the Eastern District of Texas.
The Strike Force is a joint law enforcement effort that brings together the resources and expertise of the Health Care Fraud (HCF) Unit in the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section, the U.S. Attorney’s Offices for the Eastern District of Texas, the Middle District of Louisiana, the Eastern District of Louisiana, and the Southern District of Mississippi, as well as law enforcement partners at the FBI, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General (HHS-OIG), U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and other federal and state partners.
“Each year, healthcare fraud costs the American taxpayers tens of billions of dollars,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian C. Rabbitt of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “The Criminal Division’s Health Care Fraud Strike Forces are a critical tool in the Department of Justice’s efforts to identify, investigate, and prosecute those who defraud our healthcare system. We are eager to announce this new partnership with the Eastern District of Texas, which will enhance and expand our efforts to prosecute healthcare fraud and protect American taxpayers.”
“The fight against health care fraud is a top priority for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Texas,” said U.S. Attorney Stephen J. Cox of the Eastern District of Texas. “We are honored to join the department’s Gulf Coast Strike Force and look forward to working together with them and with our law enforcement partners to protect the people of the Eastern District from fraud and abuse and to bring wrongdoers to justice.”
“The FBI is the primary agency for exposing and investigating health care fraud and we are pleased that the expansion of the Gulf Coast Health Care Fraud Strike Force into the Tyler area will allow us to vigorously pursue the most egregious offenders through coordinated law enforcement operations with our investigative partners,” said Special Agent in Charge Matthew J. DeSarno of the FBI’s Dallas Field Office.
“Health care fraud is a multi-billion dollar criminal enterprise,” said Special Agent in Charge Perrye K. Turner of the FBI’s Houston Field Office. “The FBI Houston Division sees significant success when we partner with multiple agencies to combat health care fraud in our communities. We look forward to expanding these efforts through the Gulf Coast Health Care Fraud Strike Force and continuing to strengthen our partnerships in the Eastern District of Texas.”
“The diversion of prescription pharmaceuticals is a public health epidemic impacting many communities throughout the country. The communities in the Eastern District of Texas are no different,” said Special Agent in Charge Steven S. Whipple of the DEA Houston Division. “We welcome the specialized prosecutorial resources that the Gulf Coast Strike Force brings to the Eastern District of Texas.”
“The OIG’s unwavering commitment in working with our law enforcement partners throughout the country on Strike Force Teams has resulted in more than a thousand arrests and recovered millions of taxpayer dollars,” said Special Agent in Charge Miranda Bennett of HHS-OIG. “OIG looks forward to continuing these important accomplishments through our already dynamic partnerships in the Eastern District of Texas.”
The HCF Unit operates 15 Strike Forces across the United States, in 24 federal districts, including Miami, Tampa, and Orlando, Florida; Los Angeles, California; Detroit, Michigan; Houston, Texas; Brooklyn, New York; the Gulf Coast; Tampa, Florida; Chicago, Illinois; and Dallas, Texas, along with the National Rapid Response Strike Force located in Washington, D.C. The Strike Forces represent a partnership between the Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney’s Offices, the FBI and HHS-OIG, and other federal and local agency partners.
The Strike Force will be made up of prosecutors and data analysts with the HCF Unit, prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Offices for the Eastern District of Texas, and special agents with the FBI, HHS-OIG and DEA. In addition, the Gulf Coast Strike Force will work closely with other various federal law enforcement agencies. The Strike Force will focus its efforts on aggressively investigating and prosecuting cases involving fraud, waste, and abuse within our federal health care programs, and cases involving illegal prescribing and distribution of opioids and other dangerous narcotics.
In September, Acting Assistant Attorney General Rabbitt noted the success of the Strike Force model while announcing a historic nationwide enforcement action involving 345 charged defendants across 51 federal districts, including more than 100 doctors, nurses and other licensed medical professionals. Five of the defendants were indicted in the Eastern District of Texas. Altogether, these defendants have been charged with submitting more than $6 billion in false and fraudulent claims to federal health care programs and private insurers, including more than $4.5 billion connected to telemedicine, more than $845 million connected to substance abuse treatment facilities, or “sober homes,” and more than $806 million connected to other health care fraud and illegal opioid distribution schemes across the country.
Among those charged in the Eastern District were Steven Churchill, 34, of Boca Raton, Florida, Samson Solomon, 22, of West Palm Beach, Florida, David Warren, 49, of Boca Raton, Florida, and Daniel Stadtman, 66, of Allen, Texas. The defendants are alleged to have conspired to pay and receive kickbacks in exchange for physicians’ orders from purported telemedicine companies. The physicians’ orders were used to submit claims for payment to federal health care programs. The conspirators obtained patient information, including protected health information and personally identifiable information, used the information to create fictitious physicians’ orders, and sold the physicians’ order to each other and to other durable medical equipment providers. Within approximately eight months, the defendants collectively obtained more the $2.9 million in proceeds from the scheme.
In another Eastern District case, Clifford Russell Harris, a 38-year-old registered nurse, pleaded guilty to recklessly endangering Texarkana, Texas, patients by stealing fentanyl. Harris broke into the secure drug storage at Healthcare Express in Texarkana, Texas, and tampered with vials of fentanyl stored there. He extracted the fentanyl from the vials and refilled the vials with another liquid. Harris then returned the vials to the drug stock where they were available for administration to patients. Harris admitted that he had acted with reckless disregard of the danger to patients and that his actions manifested an extreme indifference to that risk.
The Strike Force operations are part of a joint initiative between the Department of Justice and HHS to focus their efforts to prevent and deter fraud and enforce current anti-fraud laws around the country. Since its inception in March 2007, the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, which maintains 15 strike forces operating in 24 districts, has charged more than 4,200 defendants who have collectively billed the Medicare program for approximately $19 billion.