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Investigation of COVID-19 fraud tallies scams worth $490 million

Article

California physician is among defendants as feds announce criminal charges in cases across the country.

covid-19 vaccine gavel: © AGPhotography - stock.adobe.com

© AGPhotography - stock.adobe.com

Bogus billing over COVID-19 medical expenses tallied up to $490 million in fraud, according to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ).

Federal investigators announced criminal charges against 18 defendants in nine federal districts. The defendants include a physician who allegedly orchestrated a $230 million fraud on the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) COVID-19 Uninsured Program.

“The Justice Department will not tolerate those who exploited the pandemic for personal gain and stole taxpayer dollars,” Attorney General Merrick B. Garland said in the DOJ announcement. “This unprecedented enforcement action against defendants across the country makes clear that the Department is using every available resource to combat and prevent COVID-19 related fraud and safeguard the integrity of taxpayer-funded programs.”

The investigation involved multiple agencies. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the Inspector General, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California, also published announcements about the cases.

Anthony Hao Dinh, DO, 63, of Newport Coast, California, became the second highest biller in the country for the Uninsured Program. He was paid more than $153 million and used the proceeds for high-risk options trading, losing more than $100 million from November 2020 to February 2022, according to DOJ, citing federal court records. Dinh allegedly submitted fraudulent claims for treatment of patients who were insured, billed for services not performed, and billed for services not medically necessary, according to DOJ.

Dihn was arrested and released on $7 million bond. For three charges, he could face a maximum of 50 years in prison.

“Dr. Dinh is alleged to have stolen from a taxpayer-funded program meant to provide COVID-related health care to uninsured patients,” U.S. Attorney Martin Estrada said in the DOJ announcement. “We will not tolerate stealing from the American people, and our prosecution of this large-scale scheme demonstrates our continued efforts to stop fraud of all sorts.”

Dinh is also charged for allegedly submitting more than 70 fraudulent loan applications that netted more than $3 million from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) Program. DOJ said other defendants named in that scheme are Dinh’s sister, Hang Trinh Dinh, 64, of Lake Forest, California, who is currently a fugitive being sought by federal authorities, and Matthew Hoang Ho, 65, of Melbourne, Florida, who also was arrested on April 12.

Other charges

  • Lourdes Navarro, 64, of Glendale, was charged with conspiracy to commit health care fraud and wire fraud, health care fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering, and making false statements, in connection with the operation of Matias Clinical Laboratory, Inc., also known as Health Care Providers Laboratory, a laboratory she operated with her husband, Imran Shams.

Navarro allegedly billed HRSA and Medicare for COVID-19 respiratory pathogen panel tests that were not ordered or medically necessary and that were procured through illegal kickbacks and bribes. Navarro allegedly caused the federal agencies to lose $241 million, according to DOJ.

  • In first-of-the-kind charges, a doctor and marketer in Florida were charged for repeatedly supplying patients or deceased people with over-the-counter COVID-19 tests that they did not want or need. That scam cause more than $8.4 million in fraudulent claims to Medicare.
  • In Louisiana, the operator of a primary care clinic and spa was charged for submitting fraudulent loan agreements to receive more than $1.1 million spent on real estate, luxury vehicles, a boat, a trailer, a time share, and luxury vacations. A total of 12 defendants were charged with crimes related to misappropriating funds for frontline medical providers through the Provider Relief Fund Initiative, according to DOJ.
  • In New York, three “medical professionals” working at a small midwife practice were charged for allegedly distributing 2,700 forged COVID-19 vaccination cards to people who were not vaccinated. The defendants allegedly destroyed vials of COVID-19 vaccines and purported to be one of the busiest vaccination sites in New York state, according to DOJ.
  • In Utah, two people were charged for allegedly making and selling about 120,000 counterfeit COVID-19 vaccination record cards across the country, especially in areas with stringent COVID-10 vaccine restrictions.
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