SAVANNAH, Ga. (CW69 News at 10)
A Florida man who operated a durable medical equipment company has admitted participating in a Medicare kickback and telemedicine fraud scheme.
Patrick Wolfe, 48, of Belleair Beach, Fla., the operator of Wilmington Island Medical Inc., which does business as WI Medical Inc., a Georgia company, entered a guilty plea in U.S. District Court to one count of Conspiracy as charged in an Information, said Bobby L. Christine, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia. Wolfe admits paying kickbacks in return for “leads,” which were in actuality signed orders from physicians and nurse practitioners, and then billing those orders to Medicare Part B and Medicare Part C using WI Medical.
The financial total for orders facilitated through this scheme is alleged to be in the millions of dollars. Medicare beneficiaries were located in the Southern District of Georgia and elsewhere.
The charge carries a sentence of up to five years in prison, plus substantial financial penalties and forfeitures, followed by three years of supervised release upon completion of any prison sentence. There is no parole in the federal system.
“When the delivery of health care turns from providing comfort to patients to padding the pockets of greedy criminals, our office and those of our law enforcement partners will be there to protect our federal treasury,” said U.S. Attorney Christine.
This prosecution, arising out of the related “Operation Brace Yourself” and “Operation Double Helix,” together with 25 other cases, involve the largest fraud operation in the history of the Southern District of Georgia. Those charged in this string of cases include eight physicians, two nurse practitioners, three operators of different telemedicine companies, three brokers of patient data, and several other owners of durable medical equipment companies. The Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries whose identities were used as part of the scheme are located throughout the country, including throughout the Southern District of Georgia.
The combined $480 million in fraud charged in the Southern District of Georgia is part of nationwide operations by the Department of Justice that thus far has included allegations involving billions of fraudulent claims for genetic testing, orthotic braces, pain creams, and other items.
“Wolfe’s admission of guilt is the first step in accountability for the damage he caused to Medicare and the tax payers of this country,” said Chris Hacker, Special Agent in Charge of FBI Atlanta. “We must send the message that the FBI and our federal partners are dedicated to protecting the health care needs of deserving Americans that our government-subsidized programs provide.”
“It’s an outright crime when health care decisions are based on illegal kickbacks instead of what’s in the best interest of the patient,” said Derrick L. Jackson, Special Agent in Charge at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General in Atlanta. “We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to safeguard both the Medicare Trust Fund, as well as the health of our nation’s senior citizens.”
“Our nation’s healthcare system cannot tolerate kickbacks to physicians and pharmacies while criminals line their pockets with taxpayer-funded healthcare dollars, particularly in light of our nation’s current struggles with the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Resident Agent in Charge Glen M. Kessler, U.S. Secret Service. “Cases of this magnitude can only be tackled using a strategy that recognizes that the most effective way to fight these large criminal networks is by combining the strengths, resources, and expertise of our federal agencies.”
This investigation is ongoing. As telemedicine becomes an increasing part of our healthcare system, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, vigilance in ensuring that fraud and kickbacks do not usurp the legitimate practice of medicine by electronic means is more important than ever. If you are aware of any fraud or kickbacks relating to telemedicine, including COVID-19 fraud, please call the FBI hotline at 1-800-CALL-FBI.