A federal jury has convicted an Oakland woman of health care fraud for her part in a scam that billed Medicare for power wheelchairs that were medically unnecessary, federal officials said yesterday.
Donna K. Wells, 52, was found guilty Monday of one count of health care fraud after a week-long trial in Los Angeles, the Department of Justice and Department of Health and Human Services said in a statement. Wells is scheduled to be sentenced in March; she faces up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Evidence presented during the trial showed that Wells targeted Oakland seniors at low-income living communities, at stores and on the street, offering them free power wheelchairs and other durable medical equipment in exchange for them allowing her to copy their Medicare and California identification cards.
Several Medicare beneficiaries testified that they did not need, want or use the wheelchairs. One beneficiary said she wanted a hospital bed, and Wells told her she had to accept the power wheelchair in order to receive the bed.
Wells sold each beneficiary's Medicare information for $400 to $500, according to court testimony. One witness testified to buying information for about 200 beneficiaries from Wells over four years. These co-schemers then falsified prescriptions and patient medical documents required for Medicare claims and sold them for more than $1,000 to companies supplying durable medical equipment in Los Angeles.
One of those suppliers was Maydads Medical Supply in Arleta, in the San Fernando Valley. From June 2007 to August 2009, the company submitted more than $470,000 in false claims to Medicare, almost all for power wheelchairs.
Maydads' owner, Sylvester Ijewere, collected $232,527 from the claims, according to court documents. He pleaded guilty to health care fraud and was fined $211,755 and sentenced last month to 46 months in prison.
The cases of Ijewere and Wells are among many Medicare scams involving wheelchairs brought by the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, a partnership between the Department of Justice and Department of Health and Human Services.
In May, the owner of a Los Angeles durable medical equipment company was sentenced to 55 months in prison for a nearly $1 million power wheelchair-fraud scheme. His two co-conspirators were also convicted.
Last year, the strike force charged 20 defendants, mostly from the Los Angeles area, in seven separate cases in Medicare schemes that resulted in more than $26 million in false claims. Among the defendants were nine members of a Santa Ana street gang, who billed more than $11 million before getting caught.
California Watch's Christina Jewett reported in September how the gang was able to take advantage of loopholes in Medicare regulations that make it easy to setup fake medical supply companies and bill the government for expensive equipment:
(Inspector General Daniel) Levinson said that Medicare is basically paying suppliers too much money for some devices, making medical supply an attractive field for fraudsters. For example, he said, it costs about $1,000 for a supplier to buy a wheelchair. However, Medicare reimburses the middlemen $4,000 for the device.
Agents checking 905 Southern California medical suppliers in 2007 found that 13 percent had no operating storefronts, Jewett reported. Defrauders also benefited from lax checks and balances, with suppliers receiving payment for invalid or inactive Medicare information.