BOSTON (AP) — Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley announced indictments Friday against 10 people linked to a series of Medicaid fraud schemes that investigators say cheated taxpayers out of nearly $10 million.
The allegations included billing the state for care provided to dead patients, kickback schemes for unnecessary drug tests and claiming nursing home residents needed help walking and eating when they were able to do both on their own. In each case, investigators said the goal was to bilk MassHealth, the state's Medicaid program.
A total of 118 criminal indictments against 10 individuals have been handed down in the four cases.
Coakley said the indictments were returned Thursday by three grand juries including a special statewide grand jury and are the result of four major criminal investigations by the state Medicaid Fraud unit.
Coakley said the kind of fraud alleged in the indictments ultimately forces up health care costs for everyone in Massachusetts.
"It's like when people are shoplifting in a store, it's passed onto consumers," Coakley said Friday. "They might as well be walking over to MassHealth and taking money out of the state treasury."
In the case of Adlife, investigators allege that owner Sharon Richardson, 55, of Framingham and two employees billed MassHealth for approximately $5.5 million in services that were not provided.
Adlife is a group adult foster care provider for MassHealth with locations in Framingham, West Springfield, Boston and Hyannis.
Investigators' allege Adlife billed MassHealth for treating deceased individuals and individuals who never received services. Richardson is also accused of falsifying records submitted to MassHealth and working with two employees to destroy internal records to cover up the fraud.
The second set of indictments focus on a Brookline doctor, Punyamurtula Kishore, 61, and his company Preventative Medicine Associates, Inc., with 29 locations statewide.
Investigators said Kishore and three others orchestrated an elaborate drug screening kickback scheme and fraudulently billed MassHealth for nearly $3.8 million.
Coakley's office said Kishore used bribes to induce various so-called "sober homes" to send patients to his laboratories to perform unnecessary urine drug screens — as many as three a week — that were later billed to Medicaid. Investigators said drug screens are generally billed at between $100 and $200 each and Kishore billed MassHealth for tens of thousands of the tests.
Three managers or owners of the "sober homes" — New Horizon House in Boston, Marshall House in Malden and Gianna's House, which operates homes in Wareham, New Bedford and Sandwich — were also indicted.
Kishore was arraigned Wednesday in Malden District Court and later released after surrendering his passport.
Kishore's attorney said Kishore is "an extremely well-regarded member of the community" who denies the allegations.
The third alleged scheme defrauded MassHealth of $160,000 and involved David Benson, 48 of New Bedford and his company Mitchell Counseling Services.
Investigators said Benson, an independent clinical social worker, routinely billed for treatment that exceeded services provided to six patients. Coakley's office said Benson billed as if his patients were in need of acute care multiple times a week when they were being provided minimal care or no care at all.
A call to Mitchell Counseling Services wasn't answered Friday.
The final investigation resulted in an indictment against Carolyn Wetterberg, 70, of Weymouth for allegedly billing MassHealth more than $600,000 for services not provided.
Wetterberg was part owner and sole manager of Wetterberg Nursing Homes, Inc., which ran the Pond View Nursing Facility in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood of Boston. The 43-bed long term care facility was shut down by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health in June for poor quality of care.
Coakley's office said Wetterberg defrauded MassHealth by deliberately overstating the level of disabilities of those who lived in the facility, allowing her to bill for more than their care required.
Investigators said in some cases patients she claimed needed help walking were walking independently and those she claimed needed help eating were eating on their own.
A man who answered the phone at Wetterberg's home said she wasn't available for comment.