Ken Paxton

Monday, October 31, 2005

Attorney General Abbott Gets Court Order Freezing Assets Of Company Dispensing Fake Flu Vaccine

HOUSTON - Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott today obtained a court order freezing the assets of local health care businesses that inoculated an estimated 1,600 employees at the Exxon Mobil refinery in Baytown beginning on Oct. 19 with a substance they falsely promoted as flu vaccine.

The Attorney General’s lawsuit alleges Comfort & Caring Home Health Care Services, America Home Health Care Services and three individuals engaged in a scheme to administer fake flu shots at the refinery during what they falsely promoted as a health fair for flu vaccine. The lawsuit also alleges the defendants may have administered the vaccines to Medicaid or Medicare recipients at three senior living facilities in Houston and La Porte. One defendant, Iyad Muhammad (Eddie) Abu El Hawa allegedly intended to bill the Medicaid program for these shots, according to investigators.

I find it unconscionable that these companies engaged in a reckless, potentially dangerous act veiled as a health outreach project designed to help fellow Texans, said Attorney General Abbott. I have taken this legal action today to expose these individuals, these businesses and the scheme they attempted to foist on the public in the name of disease prevention.

A nurse working with the companies tipped the FBI about the unfolding scam to inoculate the Exxon Mobil employees by the three individual defendants El Hawa, Martha Denise Gonzales and Hossan (Sammy) El Hallak. The nurse had allegedly been told by El Hallak that he filled syringes on his own with an unknown substance and without regard for vaccine lot numbers, a system mandated by state and federal governments to track vaccines properly.

An investigation ensued on Oct. 21 by officers with the Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit, the Texas Department of State Health Services and the FBI, culminating in a visit to El Hawa’s office on Harwin Drive where he was found disposing of 32 filled syringes into a trash container.

FBI officers seized the syringes and sent them to an Ohio laboratory for testing, along with one confiscated by the nurse informant. Preliminary results obtained on Oct. 27 showed that none of the samples contained flu vaccine; but further testing is being conducted to determine the exact contents of the syringes.

The companies conducted health fairs and administered the inoculations at the Lovett Manor and Villas in the Pines senior living facilities in Houston and Happy Harbor Senior Housing in La Porte on Oct. 17, 18 and 21, respectively.

In addition to possible criminal charges tied to false Medicaid billings, the defendants face allegations of violating the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act. Penalties of up to $20,000 per violation of this law can be imposed by a court, plus the relinquishment of any monetary benefit as a result of their actions.