A Brooklyn court has indicted 23 people, including nine doctors, in a Medicaid fraud case that prosecutors say involved the misappropriation of $7 million dollars in funding from the federal government.
Together, the defendants face 199 counts of illegal activity, which prosecutors say involved some of the poorest residents of the New York City borough.
The plan allegedly involved promising free sneakers and boots to poor and homeless people, in a scheme to provide unnecessary medical testing. The patients were gathered from low-income neighborhoods, homeless shelters and welfare offices between October 2012 and September 2014. Medicaid was billed $7 million dollars for the services provided, government prosecutors allege.
"The many poor people who were allegedly targeted at homeless shelters, welfare offices and soup kitchens and referred to as 'guinea pigs' by the defendants were exploited for hours, if not days, just because they needed a pair of shoes. That so many doctors allegedly participated in this elaborate scheme to defraud a health care system designed to help the poor is truly disgraceful," said Ken Thompson, Brooklyn district attorney.
Charges against the group include enterprise corruption, first-degree health care fraud and money laundering, falsifying business records, grand larceny, and a retinue of further allegations. A conviction just on charges of enterprise corruption could result in a sentence of 25 years in prison for the defendants.
Eric Vainer, a 43-year-old resident of New York City, was named as the ringleader in the program, while his mother, Polina Vainer, 66, is charged with being second in command in the scheme.
The case first came to the attention of the Brooklyn district attorney's office when a woman living in the borough reported she questioned the program after coming in for free shoes. Staff running the program provided her with a leg brace in addition to the footwear. When she said she did not need the brace, the participant was told she needed to take the brace to qualify for the shoes.
To receive the footwear, the clients needed to be in possession of a Medicaid card, and have their feet examined at specific offices in Brooklyn and the Bronx. Prosecutors say the exam was cursory, and patients were regularly informed they needed to wear braces or orthotic insoles. Further tests would often be ordered, including evaluations of pain management, cardiograms and physical therapy. Government officials believe the medical providers paid a kickback to Vainer from the money they received from the federal program.
Physicians charged in the program include vascular surgeon David Glass, owner of the New York Vein Center, and Treating Physician Medical Care owner Joseph Grossman, along with podiatrists Avia Jackson, Benny Ogorek, Nemaan Ghuman and others.
Money coming from the scheme has been traced to 13 bank accounts, which prosecutors hope to seize as part of their investigation.
A hearing on the charges is currently scheduled for May 19.
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