BROOKSVILLE — The phones had rung all morning.
Patients, some panicked, asked the same questions. A receptionist answered yet another call in the small office tucked in the Hernando Medical Park off Cortez Boulevard.
"Yes, Dr. Yason is back," she said. "The crook is in jail."
The "crook" to whom she referred is Kesmond L. Wilson. The 32-year-old, authorities say, bought Dr. Leo Yason's psychiatric practice two months ago and used medical records to file more than 70 fraudulent billing transactions with Medicare. Wilson was arrested earlier this month, though authorities are still searching for his sister, Kenyatta, who they say has copies of patient records.
Wilson, of Lake Wales, now faces 148 criminal counts.
Yason and his patients were relieved Wednesday that Wilson had been caught so quickly. That relief, though, mixed with fear and confusion. Patients were worried about the security of their medical records and, for many of them, the question remained — how did any of this happen in the first place?
The story began months ago, when the longtime Hernando County psychiatrist decided to sell his practice. Yason had served patients for two decades, and in January, he became medical director at Springbrook Hospital. It was time to move on.
So, Yason said, he contacted the Tampa branch of Transworld Business Brokers to find a buyer. The doctor soon learned that a company named Wilson Group Billing Claims Health Care Management was interested.
Wilson seemed professional, Yason said. He wore a suit. He was articulate. Wilson arranged for a reputable psychiatrist from Orlando to see patients twice a week. A nurse practitioner would take the rest.
Transworld and a Tampa lawyer named Gil Sanchez facilitated the transaction, Yason said. Wilson agreed to pay $300,000 in installments. On Sept. 12, the deal closed.
At the time, Yason said, he didn't know that Wilson was a career con man — that since 1999, he had been charged with fraud at least five times along with multiple counts of larceny, grand theft and forgery. He first went to jail at age 20. He had been arrested seven times by six different law enforcement agencies across the state.
The day the doctor sold his business marked eight months, almost to the day, since Wilson had been placed on felony probation in Polk County for convictions of fraud, grand theft and uttering a forged instrument.
Wilson, authorities say, began behaving oddly soon after the sale. He told a vendor not to contact Yason's wife. He quit paying suppliers. He removed sample medicines that pharmaceutical representatives had given to the doctor, including some controlled substances.
Wilson wrote Yason a check for $7,488 to cover the first payment. It bounced, and Yason began to suspect something was wrong. Days later, the doctor learned of Wilson's felony probation in Polk. He contacted authorities.
Hernando Sheriff's Office detectives say they later found that Wilson and his sister downloaded the patient records to a laptop; Wilson eventually filed at least 74 billing transactions with Medicare. Yason had not seen any of those patients, and one was dead.
Yason has since returned to his practice and his patients. He sat at his desk Wednesday afternoon and wore the stress of recent weeks on his face.
He still doesn't understand how the brokers he hired to sell his business didn't discover Wilson's criminal past. Even a basic Google search shows Wilson's old mug shots.
"I thought that was part of their job," he said. "That's why I hired them."
Transworld president Andrew R. Cagnetta Jr. could not be reached Wednesday, and Sanchez didn't return a message.
Many of Yason's clients aren't sure what to do now. Because investigators still haven't found Kenyatta Wilson and the laptop that allegedly holds copies of the records, authorities say the patients' identities are in danger.
Hernando sheriff's Detective William Horvath said, among other crimes, someone with another person's medical information could file fraudulent tax returns or direct Social Security funds to bogus accounts. "They can be used for limitless (purposes)," he said. "It's really a scary thing."
Horvath suggested that patients get passwords placed on their Social Security accounts and pull regular credit reports in the coming months.
Al Abbadessa of Spring Hill had been going to Yason since 2003. From his first visit to the office after the doctor left, Abbadessa was suspicious that things weren't run properly.
His appointment began 45 minutes late. The staff didn't seem to know what they were doing. The nurse practitioner, he said, used a pad with Yason's name on it to write him a prescription for three medications that had previously caused a bad reaction. He never filled the prescriptions. After his visit, he said, they even billed him incorrectly.
"If you were a confused person, like I am at times, they made you much more confused," Abbadessa said. "It was a zoo."
Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. John Woodrow Cox can be reached at (352) 848-1432 or firstname.lastname@example.org.