The owners of a Los Angeles ambulance firm that served Orange County pleaded guilty yesterday to conspiracy to commit fraud in a massive Medicare billing scheme.
Federal authorities accused three officials of the Alpha Ambulance Inc. of converting the small firm operating in central LA into a criminal enterprise, billing Medicare for $49 million and receiving $13 million during the four years ending in 2012.
The guilty pleas were entered in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles by owners Alexander Kapri also known as Kapriyelov, 56, of West Hollywood and Aleksey, also known as Russ, Muratov, 32, of Burbank. A manager, Danielle Hartsell Medina, 36, of Corona, also pleaded guilty.
The trio is scheduled to be sentenced on Feb. 24, when they will face a maximum of 10 years in prison, said officials of the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. Terms of restitution will be addressed at the time of sentencing, federal officials say.
A fourth defendant, Alpha’s chief financial officer, Wesley Kingsbury, 33, of Bloomington, pleaded not guilty and is set to go on trial on Nov. 5 in federal court in Los Angeles.
An Orange County Health Care Agency spokeswoman said Alpha’s license to operate here was revoked on Oct. 25, 2012, for failing to report significant changes in operations.
In August 2012, Alpha was highlighted in a Voice of OC article about suspect ambulance firms moving operations into Orange County amid a crackdown on such operators in Los Angeles.
Early last year, Alpha was denied a permit to continue operating in Los Angeles County regions because the firm was operating without insurance and had its office raided by federal agents that May.
The city of Los Angeles ceased licensing Alpha in April 2013 when the firm disappeared, didn’t apply for a new license and didn’t pay past-due fees, said Patricia Barker, a senior investigator for the city’s transportation department.
Alpha specialized in nonemergency transports of Medicare-eligible patients to and from health care facilities such as dialysis clinics.
But to try to boost revenue, Alpha falsified and altered patients records, thereby increasing the charges that could be billed to Medicare, according to federal records.
Federal officials found Alpha often claimed a patient needed the ambulance for the transport when they actually did not.
The Alpha officials were among 91 defendants in seven cities nationwide indicted in October 2012 for a total of about $430 million in false Medicare charges.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder specifically cited Alpha last year as one of the more egregious offenders uncovered by the nationwide Medicare Fraud Strike Force.
Rex Dalton is a San Diego-based journalist who has worked for the San Diego Union-Tribune and the journal Nature. You can reach him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.