Physician Sentenced to More Than Six Years in Federal Prison for Role in Massive Medicare Fraud Scheme
- Created on Thursday, 12 July 2012 20:03
- Written by Imperial Valley News
Sacramento, California - Lana Le Chabrier, 64, of Santa Barbara, was sentenced today by United States District Judge Morrison C. England, Jr. to six and a half years in prison for conspiring to commit health care fraud. She was found guilty by a jury on July 8, 2011.
In sentencing Le Chabrier, Judge England found that she abused her position of trust as a physician and was responsible for close to a million dollars in fraudulent billings submitted to Medicare and more than $400,000 in payments made on false claims. Following her arrest and prior to trial, Le Chabrier attempted to flee the United States and was apprehended at the Canadian border with $55,000 in cash, an expired United States passport (she was required to surrender her valid passport upon her arrest), and a bottle of hair dye. Judge England found the attempted escape to be an obstruction of justice.
According to testimony presented at trial, from February 2006 through August 2008, Vardges Egiazarian, 63, of Panorama City, owned and controlled three health care clinics in Sacramento, Richmond, and Carmichael. Egiazarian and others recruited doctors to submit applications to Medicare for billing numbers. Le Chabrier assumed the role of co-owner and practitioner at the Richmond clinic, and claims were submitted to Medicare under her name for medical services purportedly rendered at the clinic.
In fact, Le Chabrier never treated a single patient at the clinic. Clinic patients, almost all of whom were elderly and non-English speaking, were recruited and transported to the clinics by individuals who were paid according to the number of patients they brought to the facilities. Rather than being charged a co-payment, the patients were paid for their time and the use of their Medicare eligibility, generally $100 per visit. False charts were created stating that each patient received comprehensive exams and a broad array of diagnostic tests. Few of these tests were ever performed, none were performed based on any medical need, and clinic employees filled out other portions of the charts using preprinted templates. Some clinic employees admitted to performing various tests on themselves, and placing the results in patient files.
Patient files were then transported to Southern California, where Le Chabrier signed them indicating she provided or approved the treatments. In all, the three clinics submitted more than $5 million worth of fraudulent claims to Medicare, $1.7 million of which was actually paid. In return for their roles, Le Chabrier and the other physicians received 20 percent of the billings paid under their respective provider numbers. When the Richmond clinic closed, Le Chabrier began the same activity at another fraudulent clinic in Burbank.
Speaking on her own behalf, Le Chabrier claimed she was a victim of credential fraud. At the judge’s request, she listed her educational accomplishments, including an M.D. from Australia, an MBA from Switzerland, a medical fellowship at Harvard, and coursework toward two PhDs.
In pronouncing sentence, Judge England recognized Dr. Le Chabrier as “one of the most highly educated defendants that has been in this courtroom or any courtroom I’ve ever been in,” stating it was “inconceivable that someone with this much education, experience, common sense, and worldly knowledge—that you’d be involved in a health care fraud” conspiracy without knowing it. “Your involvement was not an accident.” Judge England said, “You have taken a medical system that is meant to care for...those that can’t afford it,” he said, “and you subverted it in such a way” to enrich the members of the conspiracy.
This case is the product of an investigation by the Office of the Inspector General for the Department of Health and Human Services and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Assistant United States Attorneys Philip Ferrari and Jean Hobler prosecuted the case.
“HHS-OIG is committed to protecting the integrity of the Medicare program and we will continue to work with the Department of Justice to seek those who exploit their patients for financial gain,” said Ivan Negroni, Special Agent in Charge of the San Francisco Region for the United States Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General. “We will continue to ensure that those who choose to defraud the Medicare program are held accountable.”
Others who were charged in this matter include:
- Vardges Egiazarian is currently serving six and a half years in prison.
- Alexander Popov, a doctor involved with the Sacramento clinic, is currently serving eight years and one month in prison.
- Ramanthan Prakash, a doctor involved with the Sacramento clinic, was convicted at trial and is awaiting sentencing.
- Derrick Johnson, a doctor involved with the Richmond clinic, pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing.
- Nazaret Salmanyan, an unlicensed ultrasound technician who worked at all three clinics, pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing.
- Zoya Belov, a nurse licensed in Russia but not the United States who worked at all three clinics, pleaded guilty plea and is awaiting sentencing.
- Shushanik Martirosyan, who billed Medicare as part of the scheme, pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing.
- Migran Petrosyan, one of the clinic owners, pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing.
- Liw Jiaw Saechao, aka Jenny Saechao, recruited patients, pleaded guilty, and is awaiting sentencing.
Another physician involved with the clinics, Emilio Cruz, was arrested on July 21, 2011, and remains in custody pending trial. The charges in the superseding indictment as to Cruz are only allegations, and he is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.