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Record-breaking Medicare fraud case includes 10 arrests in Tampa area

Federal, state and county authorities Thursday morning shut down the Cosmopolitan Clinic and Cortez Drugs in Brooksville.

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

Federal, state and county authorities Thursday morning shut down the Cosmopolitan Clinic and Cortez Drugs in Brooksville.

TAMPA — In the largest Medicare fraud case in U.S. history, law enforcement agents have charged 111 people in nine cities with filing millions of dollars in bogus claims.

In the Tampa Bay area, authorities charged 10 people, including clinic owners, a pharmacy owner and a Clearwater physician. Their claims totaled about $5 million, federal officials said.

The arrests are the latest in a string of major cases over the last two years as authorities have worked to cut down fraud that costs the government between $60 billion and $90 billion each year.

Thursday's indictments were for suspects in Tampa, Miami, Los Angeles, Dallas, Houston, Detroit, Chicago, Brooklyn, N.Y., and Baton Rouge, La.

The government's loss: $225 million.

"We're sending a clear message that if you're involved in health care fraud, the Department of Justice and the FBI and all our partners will ferret out these schemes," said Steven Ibison, special agent in charge of the FBI's Tampa office.

In Clearwater, physician Jayam Krishna Iyer has been accused of submitting about $457,000 in claims for services she did not perform.

Another doctor at Creative Health Center did the work, officials say, but that physician did not file the claims because he is excluded from the Medicare program due to a prior felony conviction for accepting kickbacks for referrals.

Iyer got about $165,000 for submitting the claims, a federal indictment states.

Her attorney, George Tragos, said Iyer thought she was following the law when she submitted bills for services her employee performed. The patients received the services and there have been no reported complaints, Tragos said.

Iyer has faced federal charges before. In 2000, she was accused of prescribing painkillers to three undercover agents even though they told her they were not in pain.

The charges were dropped when Iyer completed a pretrial diversion program.

However, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration revoked her registration in 2006, saying she had violated federal law. An appeals court set aside that order in 2007, allowing Iyer to resume prescribing.

Also arrested were:

• Abel Fuentes of Nebraska Medical Equipment in Tampa, accused of submitting $1.7 million in claims for equipment and services that were not provided.

• Five employees of Dynamic Physical Therapy Inc., accused of stealing Medicare numbers and filing about $649,000 in fraudulent claims.

• Patrick Crisler, owner of Active Life Rehab in Inverness, accused of submitting $1.28 million in fraudulent claims for occupational therapy services that were not provided. Crisler used Medicaid provider numbers of licensed therapists without their consent to bill for the never-performed services, an indictment states.

• Mira Matchin, owner of Panseonat Miracle in Sarasota County, charged in connection with a scheme to submit about $1 million in claims to Medicare for physical therapy services that were not provided.

• Harsh Mehta, a New Port Richey pharmacy owner, accused of defrauding Tricare, the Defense Department health benefits program. Officials say he billed Tricare for medications that weren't dispensed.

Information from Times wires was used in this report. Times staff writer Jamal Thalji and news researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at (813) 226-3433 or jvandervelde@sptimes.com.

Record-breaking Medicare fraud case includes 10 arrests in Tampa area 02/17/11 [Last modified: Friday, February 18, 2011 11:08am]
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