Federal prosecutors claim Houston doctor was go-to man for fraud

May 23, 2012

The Houston Chronicle on May 22, 2012 released the following:

“By Terri Langford

A Houston physician accused of Medicare fraud prescribed costly home health care to hundreds of patients who didn’t need it – the majority of whom he never examined – resulting in more than $5.2 million in phony Medicare claims, according to federal data presented to jurors Tuesday.

In an unflattering snapshot of the home health care industry, the case brought by the government against Dr. Ben Echols aims to show he easily was able to sign off on home health care prescriptions for 352 patients and that the nation’s Medicare system, a $700 billion-plus behemoth, relies on an honor system where doctors and home health care agencies police their own claims.

Echols’ attorney, Connie Williams, insists his client has done nothing against the law or Medicare rules.

“He’s a good doctor. I think a lot of people in the community love him,” Williams said of his client. “However, he’s not the best manager in world.”

Echols’ signature was found on the patients’ plans of care forms, also known as a “485” form, paperwork needed by home health care companies before they can submit a claim for their services to Medicare.

The forms never make it to Medicare claims officials.

The home health care agencies and doctors keep them in their files in case a claim is questioned.

All of the requests for home health care for the 352 patients in question came from two home health care companies: Family Healthcare Services and Houston Compassionate Care.

Owners pleaded guilty

The owners of Family Healthcare, Clifford Ubani and Princewill Njoku, have already pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud, one count of conspiracy to pay kickbacks and 16 counts of payment of kickbacks to Medicare beneficiary recruiters.

A record kept by Family Healthcare and recovered from a storage facility by federal investigators showed how the company went to Echols after patients’ own physicians rejected Family Healthcare’s request to provide services. The company dubbed the record, a “Re-Bill Doctor Log.”

However, most of the patients – 204 – were referred by Echols for home health care services from Compassionate Care, the same company that paid him $103,400 to serve as “medical director,” a position that requires him to make sure the company is following proper health care protocol.

Nurse indicted

The signature on the payments to Echols was that of Valnita Turner, a registered nurse with Compassionate Care.

Turner was indicted this month in the nation’s largest Medicare fraud sweep and is accused of conspiracy to disclose health information, conspiracy to commit health care fraud and five counts of health care fraud.

The second day of testimony in Echols’ trial, in U.S. District Judge Sim Lake’s court room, focused on how the two companies outmaneuvered Medicare through unsophisticated paperwork sleights-of-hand.

In one example, Family Healthcare Services tried to get a patient in Crockett, 120 miles from Houston, approved by his hometown physician for home health care.

The doctor’s office in Crockett faxed their denial back to Family Healthcare Services.

“He wasn’t home-bound,” testified nurse practitioner Toni McDonald, who worked for the doctor in Crockett. “He was driving.”

Not long after the denial, that same patient’s request for home health care was approved by Echols.

But Family Healthcare submitted paperwork to Medicare, under the Crockett physician’s Medicare number, not Echols’, according to testimony from U.S. Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General agent Korby Harshaw.

Rules tightened

A year ago, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) tightened home health care rules because too many doctors were approving patients for home health care without seeing the patient.

Of the 352 patients approved for home health care services by Echols, 200 did not have an office visit with him beforehand.

And at least one patient he approved for care got it for 2½ years before he was seen by the physician.

As Echols left the courthouse Tuesday he declined comment, then added, “Except to say I am not the monster you think I am.””

————————————————————–

Douglas McNabb – McNabb Associates, P.C.’s
Federal Criminal Defense Attorneys Videos:

Federal Crimes – Be Careful

Federal Crimes – Be Proactive

Federal Crimes – Federal Indictment

————————————————————–

To find additional federal criminal news, please read Federal Criminal Defense Daily.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write and/or report extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition Defense, OFAC SDN Sanctions Removal, International Criminal Court Defense, and US Seizure of Non-Resident, Foreign-Owned Assets. Because we have experience dealing with INTERPOL, our firm understands the inter-relationship that INTERPOL’s “Red Notice” brings to this equation.

The author of this blog is Douglas C. McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.


Drug crime sends first-time offender grandmom to prison for life

May 10, 2012

Houston Chronicle on May 10, 2012 released the following:

“Houstonian, who has no secrets to trade, is doing more time than drug lords
By Dane Schiller

FORT WORTH – The U.S. government didn’t offer a reward for the capture of Houston grandmother Elisa Castillo, nor did it accuse her of touching drugs, ordering killings, or getting rich off crime.

But three years after a jury convicted her in a conspiracy to smuggle at least a ton of cocaine on tour buses from Mexico to Houston, the 56-year-old first-time offender is locked up for life – without parole.

“It is ridiculous,” said Castillo, who is a generation older than her cell mates, and is known as “grandma” at the prison here. “I am no one.”

Convicted of being a manager in the conspiracy, she is serving a longer sentence than some of the hemisphere’s most notorious crime bosses – men who had multimillion-dollar prices on their heads before their capture.

The drug capos had something to trade: the secrets of criminal organizations. The biggest drug lords have pleaded guilty in exchange for more lenient sentences.

Castillo said she has nothing to offer in a system rife with inconsistencies and behind-the-scenes scrambling that amounts to a judicial game of Let’s Make A Deal.

“Our criminal justice system is broke; it needs to be completely revamped,” declared Terry Nelson, who was a federal agent for over 30 years and is on the executive board of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. “They have the power, and if you don’t play the game, they’ll throw the book at you.”

Castillo maintains her innocence, saying she was tricked into unknowingly helping transport drugs and money for a big trafficker in Mexico. But she refused to plead guilty and went to trial.

In 2010, of 1,766 defendants prosecuted for federal drug offenses in the Southern District of Texas – a region that reaches from Houston to the border – 93.2 percent pleaded guilty rather than face trial, according to the U.S. government. Just 10 defendants were acquitted at trial, and 82 saw their cases dismissed.

The statistics are similar nationwide.

The latest case in point came this week with the negotiated surrender of a Colombian drug boss Javier Calle Serna, whom the United States accuses of shipping at least 30 tons of cocaine.

While how much time Calle will face is not known publicly, he likely studied other former players, including former Gulf Cartel lord Osiel Cardenas Guillen.

Cardenas once led one of Mexico’s most powerful syndicates and created the Zetas gang. He pleaded guilty in Houston and is to be released by 2025. He’ll be 57.

As the federal prison system has no parole, Castillo has no prospect of ever going home.

“Any reasonable person would look at this and say, ‘God, are you kidding?’ ” said attorney David Bires, who represented Castillo on an unsuccessful appeal. “It is not right.”

Castillo’s elderly mother in Mexico has not been told she’s serving life, and her toddler grandson thinks she’s in the hospital when he comes to visit her in prison.

Castillo is adamant about her innocence.

“Put yourself in my shoes. When you are innocent, you are innocent,” she said. “I don’t say I am perfect. I am not … but I can guarantee you 100 percent that I am innocent of this.”

At the urging of her boyfriend, Martin Ovalle, Castillo became partners with a smooth-talking Mexican resident who said he wanted to set up a Houston-based bus company.

But the buses were light on passengers and shuttled thousands of pounds of cocaine into the United States and millions of dollars back to Mexico. Her lawyers argued she was naive.

Castillo claims she didn’t know about the drug operation, but agents said she should have known something was wrong when quantities of money and drugs were repeatedly found on the coaches.

“After hearing all the evidence as presented from both the government and defense in this case, the jury found her guilty … ,” said Kenneth Magidson, chief prosecutor here.

Former federal prosecutor Mark W. White III said if Castillo had something to share, she might have benefited from a sentence reduction for cooperating.

“Information is a cooperating defendant’s stock in trade,” White said, “and if you don’t have any, … the chances are you won’t get a good deal.”

Castillo has faith that she’ll somehow, some day, go free. Her daily routine doesn’t vary: when she eats breakfast, when she works, when she exercises, and when she brushes her hair, which has gone from red-blond to black and gray. The gray gets respect in prison.

“I will leave here one day with my head held high,” she said. “I don’t feel like a bug or a cockroach. I am a human being, with my feet firmly on the ground.””

————————————————————–

Douglas McNabb – McNabb Associates, P.C.’s
Federal Criminal Defense Attorneys Videos:

Federal Crimes – Be Careful

Federal Crimes – Be Proactive

Federal Crimes – Federal Indictment

————————————————————–

To find additional federal criminal news, please read Federal Criminal Defense Daily.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write and/or report extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition Defense, OFAC SDN Sanctions Removal, International Criminal Court Defense, and US Seizure of Non-Resident, Foreign-Owned Assets. Because we have experience dealing with INTERPOL, our firm understands the inter-relationship that INTERPOL’s “Red Notice” brings to this equation.

The author of this blog is Douglas C. McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.


Federal District Court Judge Told a Federal Jury That They Must Keep Deliberating in the R. Allen Stanford Federal Criminal Trial

March 6, 2012

The New York Times on March 5, 2012 released the following:

“Jurors Told to Keep Talking in Financier’s Fraud Trial

By BLOOMBERG NEWS

The judge in the fraud trial of the financier R. Allen Stanford ordered the jury on Monday to return to deliberations after it said it could not reach a unanimous verdict in its fourth day of reviewing the evidence.

The eight men and four women on the jury told Judge David Hittner of Federal District Court for the Southern District of Texas in Houston that they had been unable to reach a verdict on each of the 14 counts, the judge said, reading a note they had written to lawyers for both sides.

Judge Hittner instructed jurors to continue deliberations, saying that the trial had taken a lot of time and money and that it was unlikely that the lawyers could put on a better trial or that another jury could be more conscientious.

”It is your duty to agree upon a verdict if you can do so, without surrendering your conscientious opinion,” Judge Hittner said.

Mr. Stanford, 61, is accused of leading a $7 billion international fraud scheme involving the sale of certificates of deposit issued by his bank, which was based in Antigua.

He faces up to 20 years in prison if found guilty of the most severe charges, mail fraud and wire fraud. Mr. Stanford says he is not guilty.

The jury left for the day after it was told to resume deliberations.

Jury selection began Jan. 23. The panel heard five weeks of evidence.

The government presented testimony from investors who had bought the reportedly fraudulent C.D.’s and from the executives who had helped sell them.

The witnesses included government officials and the former chief financial officer of the Stanford Financial Group, James M. Davis, who pleaded guilty to fraud-related charges in 2009 and testified for five days against Mr. Stanford.

The defense presented former Stanford employees who said they had seen no evidence of fraud at the company. Mr. Stanford did not testify during the trial.”

————————————————————–

Douglas McNabb – McNabb Associates, P.C.’s
Federal Criminal Defense Attorneys Videos:

Federal Crimes – Federal Indictment

Federal Mail Fraud Crimes

————————————————————–

To find additional federal criminal news, please read Federal Crimes Watch Daily.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write and/or report extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition and OFAC SDN Sanctions Removal.

The author of this blog is Douglas McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.


Seven Charged in Interstate Theft and Fencing Ring of Over-the-Counter Drugs

July 20, 2011

The U.S. Attorneys Office Southern District of Texas on July 19, 2011 released the following:

“HOUSTON – A sealed indictment charging several Houston area residents for their alleged involvement in an interstate over-the-counter (OTC) drug theft and fencing ring as well as structuring and money laundering was unsealed today following the arrest of the seven charged, United States Attorney José Angel Moreno announced today along with Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) acting Special Agent in ChargeJohn Connolly.

The 29-count indictment, returned on July 13, 2011, charges seven defendants with conspiracy to transport stolen merchandise in interstate commerce, structuring monetary transactions to evade reporting requirements, money laundering and substantive counts of transporting stolen goods and structuring as well as seeks to forfeit the interest of the defendants in the illicitly obtained proceeds. Those charged include the alleged “fence,” Mohammad Zainaldin, the owner of Quick Gas and Lube on Westheimer Road in Houston, his girlfriend, Innessa Stafeyeva, who allegedly worked at the warehouse where the stolen OTC merchandise was stored along with two allegedly high level and three additional “boosters” – persons who steal the goods ultimately delivered to the fence for re-sale. Zainladin, 33, was born in the Palestinian territory and his girlfriend, Stafeyeva, 23, is a citizen of Kazakhstan. Carlos Reyes Roque 40, and Marcos Ascencio Perdomo, 35, both alleged high level “boosters,” and Irma Hernandez, 34, Ana Ramos, 30, and Claudia Flores, 35, are all citizens of Honduras.

The indictment was unsealed today following the arrest of Zainladin, Stafeyeva, Ramos and Flores. Zainladin and Flores were arrested at their respective residences, while Stafeyeva and Ramos were taken into custody at Zainladin’s warehouse on Westpark Drive and HSI offices in Houston, respectively. These four are expected to make their initial appearance tomorrow before a U.S. Magistrate Judge at which time the government expects to request the defendants remain in federal custody without bond pending trial. Reyes-Roque and Perdomo are presently in federal custody on unrelated criminal charges and are expected to appear in federal court for initial appearances on these charges in the near future. Hernandez is today being transferred from Department of Homeland Security administrative custody into federal custody to face these charges and may make her initial appearance in federal court as early as tomorrow.

The indictment accuses all seven defendants of conspiring together to steal OTC medicine from retail pharmacies and other stores both in Texas and in other states. The indictment alleges that thieves referred to as “boosters,” allegedly used aluminum foil lined bags to steal the OTC from pharmacies and retail stores. The “boosters” would ship the OTC to Zainladin during out of state trips via FedEx or UPS to avoid detection by law enforcement during routine traffic stops. According to allegations in the indictment, Zainladin was the “fence” for the stolen merchandise and the leader of the organization. Once Zainladin received the stolen OTC he would pay the boosters cash payments at his gas station. Zainladin would use bank accounts to mask his illegal activity and would withdraw $10,000 and below, allegedly avoiding bank reporting requirements, to pay his boosters.

Conspiracy to transport stolen merchandise in interstate commerce and to structure carries a maximum punishment of five years imprisonment and/or a $250,000 fine upon conviction. Conspiracy to launder proceeds of greater than $10,000 from the alleged interstate transportation of stolen property carries a maximum punishment of 10 years and/or a $250,000 fine upon conviction. Structuring financial transactions to avoid currency reporting requirements carries a maximum penalty of 10 years and/or a $250,000 fine upon conviction. Each count of transporting stolen goods and structuring carries a maximum punishment of 10 years imprisonment and/or a $250,000 fine upon conviction.

The charges are the result of an 12-month investigation conducted by Homeland Security Investigations and the Houston Police Department – Major Offenders Unit with the substantial assistance and cooperation of CVS and Walgreens loss prevention divisions.”

To find additional federal criminal news, please read The Federal Crimes Watch Daily.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition and OFAC SDN List Removal.

The author of this blog is Douglas McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.

Bookmark and Share


Houston’s Dieter David Palmer, Retired Navy Chief Petty Officer, Arrested in Houston on Child Pornography Charges Based on a Federal Indictment by a Federal Grand Jury Sitting in Houston

July 15, 2011

The U.S. Attorney’s Office Southern District of Texas on July 14, 2011 released the following:

“HOUSTON – Dieter David Palmer, 42, a retired Navy chief petty officer, has been indicted on charges of distribution, receipt, attempted receipt, transportation and possession of child pornography, United States Attorney José Angel Moreno announced today.

Palmer, of Houston, was arrested on July 12, 2011, following the return of a five-count indictment on June 22, 2011. In custody since his arrest, Palmer was ordered released on a $50,000 bond today by U.S. Magistrate Judge Stephen Wm. Smith following a hearing. Judge Smith imposed a number of special conditions including prohibiting him from personal use of an electronic device which could access the Internet and from contact with children. He will also be subject to GPS monitoring and cannot travel outside of Harris County among other things. Palmer has entered a plea of not guilty to the charges and is set for trial before U.S. District Judge Ellison on Aug. 29, 2011, at 9:00 a.m.

Testimony presented during today’s detention hearing alleged Palmer subscribed and purchased membership to websites offering child pornography over the Internet and that Palmer distributed and received images of child pornography utilizing his e-mail accounts. Palmer had two computers at his residence when contacted by law enforcement in March 2011, which, upon examination, were found to contain more than 1800 digital images and at least 36 videos of child pornography including images depicting children in bondage. Additionally, according to the testimony, these images included children under 12 being sexually violated by adults and photographed in positions which caused their genitalia to be displayed in a lewd/lascivious manner.

At the time of the investigation and when contacted by law enforcement, Palmer held a security clearance due to his employment with a navy contractor.

Palmer faces a minimum sentence of five years and a maximum of 20 years imprisonment if convicted of the distribution, receipt, attempted receipt or transportation of child pornography charges and a maximum fine of $250,000. Possession of child pornography carries a maximum punishment of up to 10 years imprisonment and a maximum fine of $250,000 upon conviction. Each offense also carries a maximum of a life term of supervised release during which the court can impose a number of special conditions designed to protect children. Additionally, if convicted, registration as a sex offender is mandatory.

The investigation leading to the indictment is the result of an investigation conducted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement – Homeland Security Investigations as part of Operation Predator. The prosecution is part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse launched in May 2006 by the Department of Justice. Led by United States Attorneys’ Offices and the Criminal Division’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, Project Safe Childhood marshals federal, state and local resources to better locate, apprehend and prosecute individuals who exploit children via the Internet, as well as to identify and rescue victims. For more information about Project Safe Childhood, please visit www. projectsafechildhood.gov.

Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Demetrius Bivins is prosecuting the case.

An indictment is a formal accusation of criminal conduct, not evidence.
A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty through due process of law.”

To find additional federal criminal news, please read The Federal Crimes Watch Daily.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition and OFAC SDN List Removal.

The author of this blog is Douglas McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.

Bookmark and Share