Two Orange County doctors were charged with Medicare fraud Wednesday as part of a national sweep that accused 107 suspects of falsely billing the federal health care program for more than $452 million, federal officials announced.
“This [national] takedown involved the highest amount of false Medicare billing in a single takedown in Strike Force history,” stated a U.S. Justice Department news release.
The two Orange County doctors were identified as Dr. Augustus Ohemeng, 62, of Buena Park and Dr. George Tarryk, 72, of Seal Beach. The two wrote “fraudulent prescriptions” for a liquid nutritional supplement, according to the release. Medicare only pays for the supplement if it is for patients with feeding tubes.
More local indictments are likely, said Steven Ryan, assistant special agent in charge of the Los Angeles regional office of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ inspector general’s investigation office.
Fraud by Medicare providers is one of the most widespread white-collar crimes in the U.S., costing taxpayers more than $60 billion a year, according to federal officials.
The two Orange County doctors “and two of their co-schemers were charged for allegedly submitting nearly $5.7 million in false claims to Medicare.” The announcement identified a third man arrested as George Samuel Laing, 41, of Sylmar, who managed the Long Beach clinic where Tarryk and Ohemeng practiced.
Laing is accused of accepting kickbacks in exchange for referring the prescriptions to Ivy Medical Supply, owned by a fourth defendant, Emmanuel Chidueme, 59, of Mira Loma.
“Ivy then fraudulently billed Medicare for the enteral [intestinal] nutrition, even though it was not medically necessary and was not delivered to patients in the quantities billed to Medicare,” according to the news release. All four were arrested Wednesday morning.
“The charges announced today emphasize disturbing health care fraud trends, including the arrest of physicians, that exploit federal health care meant for those in need,” said Steven Martinez, assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles field office.
The region comprising Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties and Los Angeles is one of several Medicare fraud “hotspots” around the country where special investigations teams are conducting investigations. The regional team is based in Santa Ana.
“There’s definitely more [indictments] to come,” said Ryan in a telephone interview. He didn’t give details but said further indictments could be expected “in the not too distant future.”
He said “a lot of the fraud” that is based in this region affects the rest of the state, because frequently, illegal Medicare billing involves using stolen identification information from people who live in Northern California or other areas.
Ryan said the “strike force tactic” was adopted for Medicare investigations to “try to catch these guys faster and prosecute faster.”
The local Medicare Fraud Strike Force teams include attorneys from the fraud section of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and from the U.S. attorney’s offices for the Central District of California in Los Angeles; the FBI; and state and local Medicaid fraud control units.
— TRACY WOOD
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