Eighteen people, some of them doctors, were criminally charged with Covid-19 health-care fraud schemes that netted hundreds of millions of dollars from false billings and theft from federally-funded programs, the Department of Justice said Thursday.
The charges, which span nine federal judicial districts, comprise the largest coordinated law enforcement action in the U.S. targeting fraud schemes that “exploit the Covid pandemic,” the DOJ said in a press release.
One California doctor, Anthony Hao Dinh, was charged with allegedly submitting around $230 million in fraudulent claims to the federal Health Resources and Services Administration’s Covid-19 Uninsured Program.
Dinh, who practices in Orange County, was the country’s second-highest biller to that program, according to the DOJ. The program aimed to provide uninsured patients with access to Covid testing and treatment, but it stopped operating last year due to a lack of funding.
Some of the claims Dinh submitted were for services not medically necessary, prosecutors allege.
Dinh also billed the program for the treatment of patients who were insured, and allegedly used more than $100 million of fraud proceeds for high-risk options trading.
Dinh and two other individuals are also charged with allegedly submitting more than 70 fraudulent loan applications that obtained more than $3 million under the federal Paycheck Protection Program and Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program.
Another defendant in California, lab owner Lourdes Navarro, is accused of submitting more than $358 million in false claims for lab testing to Medicare, which is the federal health insurance program for senior citizens, HRSA and a private insurance company.
Navarro’s lab performed Covid screening tests for nursing homes and schools, and allegedly increased her reimbursements by adding claims for respiratory pathogen panel tests that providers and facility administrators did not order.
The other cases announced Thursday involved suppliers of over-the-counter Covid test kits, the DOJ said.
Medicare last April began to cover without out-of-pocket costs up to eight of those tests a month for beneficiaries who requested them.
But some suppliers allegedly “sought to exploit the program” by repeatedly supplying patients with dozens of Covid tests “they did not want or need,” the DOJ said.
A doctor and marketer in Florida were charged with allegedly purchasing Medicare beneficiary identification numbers and shipping tests to beneficiaries who did not request them.
That resulted in $8.4 million in fraudulent claims to Medicare, the DOJ said.
Others cases involved the alleged manufacturer and distribution of fake Covid vaccine record cards.
Defendants in those cases include three medical professionals working at a small midwife practice in New York, who allegedly distributed nearly 2,700 forged Covid vaccine cards to individuals who were not vaccinated.
The midwife practice was one of the busiest vaccination sites in the state, the DOJ said.
Two people in Utah were also charged with allegedly manufacturing and selling about 120,000 fake Covid vaccine cards. Those defendants sold the cards across the U.S., especially in areas that had stricter restrictions around Covid vaccinations, prosecutors allege.
The DOJ said those people “intentionally sought to obstruct” the federal government’s efforts to roll out a nationwide Covid vaccine program.
“The Justice Department will not tolerate those who exploited the pandemic for personal gain and stole taxpayer dollars,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a press release.
“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 charges come months after the department created three strike force teams to enhance its efforts to combat and prevent Covid-related fraud. They also follow similar criminal charges related to Covid fraud schemes in April 2022 and May 2021.
In its announcement Thursday, the DOJ said it had seized more than $16 million in cash in connection with the alleged schemes.