Ken Paxton

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Four Arrested in Houston For Defrauding Medicare, Medicaid Programs

HOUSTON Four Houston-area suspects have been arrested for participating in a patient wheelchair delivery scheme that defrauded the Medicare and Medicaid programs of almost $4 million.

An investigation by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit led to federal indictments for Terri Ann Thurman Orozco, 43, Carmelita Lavette Thurman, 34, Michelle Ann Ray, 40, and Sharon Johnson Thomas, 40. Agents from the FBI and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services/Office of Inspector General also participated in the arrests.

Orozco, Thurman and Ray each owns a Houston durable medical equipment company that specializes in wheelchairs and motorized scooters for Medicare and Medicaid patients. Thomas is a patient recruiter for all three companies. The four suspects were indicted for conspiring to commit health care fraud, money laundering and kickback schemes with physicians.

Taxpayer-funded health care programs should serve those in need, not enrich criminals, said Attorney General Abbott. Texans will not tolerate illegal schemes to defraud the taxpayers. The Office of the Attorney General will continue aggressively cracking down on fraud in the Medicaid program.

According to the indictments, Ray’s Heart to Heart Medical Supply, Thurman’s Top of the Line Medical Supply and Orozco’s Twice as Nice Medical Supply conspired to obtain fraudulent paperwork from physicians who claimed the wheelchairs were medically necessary. The defendants used the phony certificates to bill Medicare and Medicaid for wheelchairs, but instead delivered much less expensive scooters to patients, pocketing the cost differences. The scheme was perpetrated from August 2002 to December 2004, and the conspiring physicians have already been convicted of health care fraud.

All four suspects are part of a broader Houston-based conspiracy to commit massive fraud involving the delivery of expensive durable medical goods such as wheelchairs and scooters. The case is being prosecuted by a special assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Texas, who is employed by the Office of the Attorney General.

Attorney General Abbott added, We are grateful to U.S. Attorney Donald J. DeGabrielle Jr., prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Southern District of Texas, and our other federal law enforcement partners for their tremendous assistance with this case. Without the close working relationships with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, cases like this would not be possible.

In 2005 alone, the Texas Medicaid program cost more than $17 billion. As the state’s chief law enforcement official, Attorney General Abbott has dramatically expanded the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit to save more taxpayer dollars and increase protection for Texas seniors.

The unit has established field offices in Corpus Christi, Dallas, El Paso, Houston, Lubbock, McAllen, San Antonio and Tyler through authorization and funding from the 78th Legislature. It works with federal, state and local agencies across the state to identify and prosecute those who defraud the Medicaid program.