Houston-Area Physician and Anesthesiologist Sentenced to 84 Months in Prison for Role in Health Care Benefit Scheme

A Houston-area physician and anesthesiologist at two registered pain clinics, Texas Pain Solutions and Integra Medical Clinic, was sentenced today to seven years in prison for his role in fraudulently billing health care programs for at least $5 million dollars in medical tests and procedures, and for the role his fraud played in multiple patient deaths. 

Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian C. Rabbitt of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Patrick of the Southern District of Texas, Montgomery County District Attorney Brett Ligon, Special Agent in Charge Will R. Glaspy of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) Houston Division, and Special Agent in Charge Perrye K. Turner of the FBI’s Houston Field Office made the announcement.

Rezik Saqer, 66, of Houston, Texas, was sentenced by Chief U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal of the Southern District of Texas.  Chief Judge Rosnethal also ordered the defendant to pay $5 million in restitution.  Saqer pleaded guilty on July 3, 2019, to one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud.

According to the evidence presented at sentencing, Saqer’s health care fraud scheme involved luring vulnerable patients to his clinics by prescribing powerful opioid narcotics, and then requiring the patients to submit to unnecessary and dangerous procedures and tests, which were often performed by Saqer’s unlicensed staff and fraudulently billed to health care providers.  Saqer’s scheme contributed to multiple overdose deaths, as well as the death of a young family in an auto accident involving one of Saqer’s patients, according to the evidence.  

According to the court’s judgment, Saqer was responsible for fraudulently billing health care providers for at least $5 million. 

This case was investigated by the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office, DEA, and FBI.  Trial Attorneys Andrew Pennebaker and Devon Helfmeyer of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Tina Ansari of the Southern District of Texas are prosecuting the case.

The Fraud Section leads the Medicare Fraud Strike Force.  Since its inception in March 2007, the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, which maintains 15 strike forces operating in 24 districts, has charged more than 4,200 defendants who have collectively billed the Medicare program for nearly $19 billion.  In addition, the HHS Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, working in conjunction with the HHS-OIG, are taking steps to increase accountability and decrease the presence of fraudulent providers.

The year 2020 marks the 150th anniversary of the Department of Justice.  Learn more about the history of our agency at www.Justice.gov/Celebrating150Years.

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    As of June 2020, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) required consumers nationwide to use the Lifeline National Verifier (Verifier), a centralized process and data system, to check their eligibility for Lifeline. Because consumers who participate in certain federal benefits programs qualify for discounted phone and internet service through Lifeline, the Verifier checks state and federal benefits databases to verify consumers' eligibility. The Verifier also includes a manual review process for consumers to submit documents proving their eligibility if they cannot be found in a database. As of November 2020, the Verifier had connections with databases in 20 states and 2 federal agencies. GAO found that although consumers in states without state database connections had the same likelihood of actually meeting eligibility requirements as consumers in states with such connections, they were less likely to be found eligible for Lifeline through the Verifier (see figure). Average Eligibility Determination for New Lifeline Applicants in States with and without State Database Connections to the Lifeline National Verifier, June 2018 through June 2020 FCC coordinated with state and federal stakeholders to implement the Verifier. However, stakeholders told GAO that many eligible consumers are not aware of the Verifier or Lifeline. Consumers may lack this awareness because FCC's consumer education planning did not always align with key practices, such as developing consistent, clear messages and researching target audiences. As a result, eligible consumers may not apply for Lifeline. Moreover, while FCC originally envisioned tribal governments and organizations assisting residents of tribal lands with the Verifier, it has not provided them with quality information to effectively do so. Although FCC reported that the Verifier is meeting its goal of improving the consumer experience, GAO found that the manual review process, which FCC used to determine the eligibility of more than half of applicants in many states, is challenging for consumers. However, FCC does not collect complete information on consumers' experience with this process, and thus is limited in its ability to identify and address the challenges consumers face. Such challenges likely contributed to eligible consumers giving up on their applications. For example, we found that more than two-thirds of applicants who underwent manual review between June 2018 and June 2020 did not complete their applications. FCC's Lifeline program discounts phone and internet service for eligible low-income consumers. In 2019, FCC authorized $982 million in support for 6.9 million eligible consumers. FCC created the Verifier with the stated goals of reducing fraud and costs and improving the consumer experience. The Verifier includes an online application, connections to state and federal benefits databases, and a standardized manual review process. GAO was asked to review FCC's implementation of the Verifier. This report examines: (1) the status of the Verifier; (2) FCC's coordination with stakeholders and efforts to educate consumers and facilitate tribal stakeholders' involvement; and (3) the extent to which the Verifier is meeting its goals. GAO reviewed FCC orders and documentation; analyzed Verifier performance and Lifeline subscriber data; interviewed FCC and other agency officials, and selected industry, state, tribal, and consumer stakeholders; and surveyed state officials. Stakeholders were selected to obtain a variety of non-generalizable viewpoints. GAO is making six recommendations, including that FCC develop a consumer education plan, provide quality information to tribal organizations, and collect information on consumers' experience with the manual review process. FCC agreed to take steps to address all of GAO's recommendations. For more information, contact Andrew Von Ah at (202)-512-2834 or vonaha@gao.gov.
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    Strachans SA in Liquidation pleaded guilty yesterday to conspiring with U.S. taxpayers and others to hide income and assets in offshore entities and bank accounts from the IRS, and was sentenced in accordance with the guilty plea, announced Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Richard E. Zuckerman of the Justice Department’s Tax Division, U.S. Attorney Nicola T. Hanna, and Chief James Lee of the Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI).
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    Opioid manufacturer Purdue Pharma LP (Purdue) pleaded guilty today in federal court in Newark, New Jersey, to conspiracies to defraud the United States and violate the anti-kickback statute.
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  • Nuclear Safety: DOE and the Safety Board Should Collaborate to Develop a Written Agreement to Enhance Oversight
    In U.S GAO News
    The Department of Energy's (DOE) Order 140.1 included provisions inconsistent with the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board's (DNFSB) original enabling statute—the statute in place when the order was issued—and with long-standing practices. For example, GAO found that Order 140.1 contained provisions restricting DNFSB's access to information that were not included in the statute. GAO also found Order 140.1 to be inconsistent with long-standing DNFSB practices regarding staff's access to certain National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) meetings at the Pantex Plant in Texas, where nuclear weapons are assembled and disassembled (see fig.). In December 2019, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 (FY20 NDAA) amended DNFSB's statute to clarify and confirm DNFSB's authority and long-standing practices between the agencies. DOE replaced Order 140.1 with Order 140.1A in June 2020. National Nuclear Security Administration's Pantex Plant, Located Near Amarillo, Texas DNFSB, DOE, and NNSA officials that GAO interviewed identified concerns with Order 140.1 that GAO found are not addressed under DOE's Order 140.1A. In particular, DOE's Order 140.1A was not part of a collaborative effort to address DNFSB's remaining concerns related to access to information and other regular interagency interactions. For example, DNFSB officials cited concerns that DOE could interpret a provision of DNFSB's statute authorizing the Secretary of Energy to deny access to information in a way that could limit DNFSB access to information to which it has had access in the past. GAO has previously recommended that agencies develop formal written agreements to enhance collaboration. By collaborating to develop an agreement that, among other things, incorporates a common understanding of this provision, DOE and DNFSB could lessen the risks of DNFSB being denied access to information important for conducting oversight. DOE and NNSA officials, as well as contractor representatives involved in operating the facilities, also raised concerns that insufficient training on Order 140.1 contributed to uncertainties about how to engage with DNFSB staff when implementing the order, a problem that GAO found could persist under Order 140.1A. Providing more robust training on Order 140.1A would help ensure consistent implementation of the revised order at relevant facilities. Established by statute in 1988, DNFSB has broad oversight responsibilities regarding the adequacy of public health and safety protections at DOE defense nuclear facilities. In May 2018, DOE issued Order 140.1, a new order governing DOE's interactions with DNFSB. DNFSB raised concerns that the order could affect its ability to perform its statutory mandate. Congressional committee reports included provisions for GAO to review DOE Order 140.1. This report examines (1) the extent to which the order was consistent with DNFSB's original enabling statute and with long-standing practices, as well as actions DOE has taken in light of changes to the statute outlined in the FY20 NDAA; and (2) outstanding areas of concern that DNFSB and DOE identified, and the potential effects of these concerns on how the two agencies cooperate. GAO reviewed legislation and agency documents; visited DOE sites; and interviewed DNFSB, DOE, and NNSA officials and contractor representatives. GAO is making a recommendation to DOE and DNFSB that they collaborate to develop a written agreement, and an additional two recommendations to DOE, including that it develop more robust training on Order 140.1A. DOE and DNFSB agreed to develop a written agreement. DOE agreed with one of the other two recommendations, but did not agree to provide more robust training. GAO maintains that the recommended action is valid. For more information, contact Allison Bawden at (202) 512-3841 or bawdena@gao.gov.
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    The Department of Justice announced the unsealing of an indictment charging Cholo Abdi Abdullah with six counts of terrorism-related offenses arising from his activities as an operative of the foreign terrorist organization al Shabaab, including conspiring to hijack aircraft in order to conduct a 9/11-style attack in the United States.  Abdullah was arrested in July 2019 in the Philippines on local charges, and was subsequently transferred on Dec. 15, 2020 in connection with his deportation from the Philippines to the custody of U.S. law enforcement for prosecution on the charges in the indictment.  Abdullah was transported from the Phillippines to the United States yesterday, and is expected to be presented today before Magistrate Judge Robert W. Lehrburger in Manhattan federal court.  The case is assigned to United States District Judge Analisa Torres.
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  • Federal Court Permanently Bars Southern Florida Tax Preparer from Preparing Returns
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    A federal court in the Southern District of Florida has permanently enjoined a West Palm Beach tax return preparer and her business from preparing federal income tax returns for others, the Justice Department announced today. According to the court’s order, it issued the injunction in response to violations of a prior order in the case that had allowed the preparer and her business to prepare returns subject to certain restrictions. In April 2017, the United States filed a complaint against Lena D. Cotton and Professional Accounting LDC, LLC, that alleged the defendants prepared returns with improper education credits, manipulated filing statuses, and improper vehicle deductions, among other issues. In November 2017, the court permanently enjoined both defendants from this and other specific conduct and required defendants to engage a “neutral monitor” to “determin[e] and/or secur[e] compliance” with injunction.
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    A former Minister of Industry and elected member of Parliament of Barbados was sentenced today to two years in prison for his role in a scheme to launder bribe payments from a Barbadian insurance company through bank accounts in New York.
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  • Justice Department Again to Monitor Compliance with the Federal Voting Rights Laws on Election Day
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  • Justice Department Sues To Block Geisinger Health’s Transaction With Evangelical Community Hospital
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    The U.S. Department of Justice sued today to block Geisinger Health’s partial acquisition of its close rival, Evangelical Community Hospital. The complaint alleges that the agreement fundamentally alters the relationship between the parties, raising the likelihood of coordination and reducing Defendants’ incentives to compete aggressively against each other. As a result, the transaction is likely to lead to higher prices, lower quality, and reduced access to high-quality inpatient hospital services for patients in central Pennsylvania. The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania.
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    Today, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a civil forfeiture complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida alleging that commercial real estate in Cleveland, Ohio, was acquired using funds misappropriated from PrivatBank in Ukraine as part of a multi-billion-dollar loan scheme.
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