On January 4, Houston-area residents Howard Grant, MD, Obisike Nwankwo, and John Lachman were sentenced to prison terms of 41 months, 21 months, and 26 months, respectively, for their roles in a multi-million dollar durable medical equipment (DME) Medicare fraud scheme, according to the Departments of Justice (DOJ) and Health and Human Services (HHS). Each prison term also carries an additional three years of supervised release time.
Co-defendants were ordered to make joint and several restitution payments of $121,742, $29,052, and $1.14 million, respectively. Following the verdict, U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Atlas ordered Grant to surrender his medical license and his Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) number, and to stop all billing to Medicare and Medicaid.
Trial evidence established that Houston-area Onward Medical Supply billed Medicare for fraudulent DME, including power wheelchairs and orthotic devices, beginning in 2003 and continuing through late 2009. Other co-conspirators have pleaded guilty for their participation in the fraud scheme including Onward’s owner, Doris Vinitski.
According to evidence presented at trial, Vinitski, with Medicare biller and co-defendant John Nasky Okonkwo and others, submitted fraudulent claims to Medicare identifying Grant as the DME prescribing physician. Trial evidence showed that Grant learned of the fraudulent prescriptions prior to Onward’s submission of the claims and asked Vinitski for $10,000 in exchange for allowing the scheme to continue.
The cases were brought to trial as part of the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, supervised by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas and the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section. Since March 2007, Strike Force operations in seven districts have obtained indictments of more than 850 individuals who, collectively, have falsely billed the Medicare program for more than $2.1 billion.
Editor’s note: This story has been adapted from materials provided by the Department of Justice Office of Public Affairs.