The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has charged 18 individuals, including some doctors, for their involvement in COVID-19 healthcare fraud schemes that resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars in false billings and theft from federally funded programs. These charges span nine federal judicial districts and are considered the largest coordinated law enforcement action in the country targeting fraud schemes that “exploit the COVID pandemic.”
Examples of Fraud Schemes
One of the individuals charged was California-based doctor, Anthony Hao Dinh, who allegedly submitted around $230 million in fraudulent claims to the federal Health Resources and Services Administration’s COVID-19 Uninsured Program. Dinh was the second-highest biller to the program and submitted claims for services that were not rendered or medically necessary. Additionally, he billed the program for insured patients and used more than $100 million of fraud proceeds for high-risk options trading.
Another defendant in California, lab owner Lourdes Navarro, submitted more than $358 million in false claims for lab testing to Medicare, the federal health insurance program for senior citizens, to HRSA, and to a private insurance company. Navarro’s lab performed COVID screening tests for nursing homes and schools and increased its reimbursements by adding claims for respiratory pathogen panel tests that providers and facility administrators did not order.
There were also cases involving suppliers of over-the-counter COVID test kits. Some suppliers allegedly repeatedly supplied patients with dozens of COVID tests that they did not want or need.
Manufacture and Distribution of Fake COVID Vaccine Record Cards
In other cases, defendants manufactured and distributed fake COVID vaccine record cards. Three medical professionals working at a small midwife practice in New York allegedly distributed nearly 2,700 forged COVID vaccine cards to people who were not vaccinated. Instead of administering the COVID vaccine, the defendants destroyed vials of the vaccines intended for patients.
Two people in Utah were charged with manufacturing and selling about 120,000 fake COVID vaccine cards, which they sold across the U.S., especially in areas that had tighter restrictions around COVID vaccinations.
The DOJ said that the individuals charged with distributing fake vaccine cards “intentionally sought to obstruct” the federal government’s efforts to roll out a nationwide COVID vaccine program.
DOJ’s Efforts to Combat COVID-19 Related Fraud
The DOJ created three strike force teams to enhance its efforts to combat and prevent COVID-related fraud. These charges come months after similar criminal charges related to COVID fraud schemes in April 2022 and May 2021. The DOJ has seized more than $16 million in cash in connection with the alleged schemes. Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a press release that “The Justice Department will not tolerate those who exploited the pandemic for personal gain and stole taxpayer dollars.”
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