MIAMI — A Tampa pharmacist is among 107 doctors, nurses and social workers in seven cities accused Wednesday of Medicare fraud in a crackdown on unrelated scams that allegedly billed the taxpayer-funded program $452 million — the highest dollar amount in a single Medicare bust in U.S. history.
It was the latest in a string of major arrests in the past two years as authorities have targeted fraud that's thought to cost the government $60 billion to $90 billion each year.
Stopping Medicare's budget from hemorrhaging that money will be key to paying for President Barack Obama's health care overhaul.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Attorney General Eric Holder partnered in 2009 to increase enforcement by allocating more money and staff and creating strike forces in fraud hot spots.
On Wednesday, hundreds of federal agents fanned out around the country, raiding businesses, seizing documents and charging 107 suspects in Tampa, Miami, Los Angeles, Houston, Detroit, Chicago and Baton Rouge, La. The government suspended payment to 52 providers as part of the investigations.
In Tampa, authorities indicted Emmanuel I. Mekowulu on a charge of dispensing and distributing controlled substances — primarily oxycodone — "not for a legitimate medical purpose."
A grand jury said he had received $121,350 from the crime, which is punishable by up to a year in prison.
The indictment and state records show Mekowulu is associated with Tampa Pharmacy Services and Felky RX, both at 14510 N Florida Ave.