Federal prosecutors announced charges Wednesday against 21 defendants for their alleged involvement in COVID-19 fraud schemes that resulted in losses of more than $149 million. Doctors, marketers and medical companies in nine U.S. federal districts are among those charged with what officials said are “some of the largest and most extensive pandemic fraud detected to date.”
Several of the cases announced Wednesday involve defendants accused of offering COVID-19 tests to trick patients into providing personal information and a saliva or blood sample, the Justice Department said. The defendants then allegedly used the samples and information to submit false and fraudulent claims to federal health insurance for tests or services that were unrelated, medically unnecessary and significantly more expensive.
In one such scheme, two owners of a California clinical lab are accused of fraudulently billing more than $214 million for lab tests as well as more than $125 million for fraudulent COVID-19 claims and tests. of respiratory pathogens, the DOJ said.
In other cases, owners of medical clinics in Maryland and New York allegedly obtained confidential information from patients who requested COVID-19 tests at drive-thru testing sites and submitted fraudulent claims for long visits to the office that never happened, investigators said. The proceeds were then allegedly laundered through US shell companies, transferred to foreign countries and used to purchase luxury items and real estate.
Other types of programs announced on Wednesday include the alleged exploitation of policies put in place to improve access to care during the pandemic, the diversion of COVID-19 funds intended for frontline medical providers and the distribution ofCOVID-19 vaccination records.
In one case, according to the Department of Justice, the pharmacy manager of a California hospital obtained real lot numbers for vials of the Moderna vaccine and used them to tamper with COVID-19 vaccination cards. In another instance, a Washington manufacturer allegedly told an undercover federal agent “until I get caught and go to jail, [expletive] there I take the money, ha! I do not care.”
Deputy Director Luis Quesada of the FBI’s Criminal Investigations Division called the defendants’ actions “unacceptable.”
“These healthcare frauds erode integrity and patient trust in healthcare professionals, especially during a vulnerable and worrying time for many people,” Quesada said in a statement.
As part of the charges, the DOJ said it also seized more than $8 million in cash “and other fraud proceeds.” Several federal agencies have pledged to crack down more heavily on fraudulent vendors.