A fraud scheme perpetrated on taxpayer-funded Medicare and Medicaid began to unravel with an anonymous tip alerting officials “that some Iraqis were fraudulently receiving home care services,” says a St. Louis Post-Dispatch report from earlier this month.
Investigators examined billing records from several home health care companies that provide services to the elderly or infirmed. They then compared those to travel records for both the caregiver and the recipient of the care, finding that one or the other was out of the country at the time the care was allegedly provided.
Two weeks ago, a federal grand jury indicted 14 involved in the $1.3 million fraud, reports the Post-Dispatch. The story was later picked up by a newsletter for the home health care industry.
The 14 charged included employees of the agencies as well as clients, and they are:
- Kian Abdollah, 52
- Mohammed Abdollah, 78
- Dalia Ahmed, 27
- Dena Ahmed, 30
- Fatemeh Akbari, 73
- Hala Alalewi, 38
- Haider Albab, 75
- Nouria Habeb, 67
- Pegdah Heidari, 27
- Tony Iyar, 57
- Ghufran Abdallah Jaber, 51
- Huda Mohammedjamil, 53
- Hend Msallati, 33
- Asal Yousif, 53
An investigation launched into one of the clients earlier this year began to shed light on the fraudulent activity.
According to an August story in the Post-Dispatch:
Charging documents say that while Salwa Albayati was traveling the U.S., Europe or the Middle East for weeks or months at a time, a St. Louis company billed Medicaid as if she were receiving at least six hours of care a day.”
Albayati’s caregiver admitted she had been paid $700 every two weeks to care for Albayati, and that Albayati took $420 of that for herself in kickbacks.
“Albayati has received $241,000 in personal care, homemaker chore and respite care services from Medicaid since 2011,” says the Post-Dispatch.
The 74-year-old Albayati pleaded guilty in September to pre-signing forms for her caregiver to submit, while she (Albayati) traveled to Europe and the Middle East. As the investigation zeroed in on her, Albayati told a federal investigator that she “may consider moving to Holland because they treat their elderly people better than the United States.”
In November, one of Albayati’s caregivers, Dalia Ahmed, was charged in the on-going investigation. She allegedly had also traveled outside the country during the same periods that she was telling the government she was providing care to Albayati.
But it wasn’t just Albayati and Ahmed who were traveling the world. HomeCareDaily.com, reporting on the 14 indicted this month, reveals:
As investigators began comparing billing information and records, they also noted international travel for 13 out of the 14 people indicted that showed clearly they were not in the country when these services were alleged to have been provided.”
The report goes on to note that it is yet unclear how many of those involved are still outside of the country, and who will need to be extradited to the U.S. upon arrest. There is no information provided on the immigration status of the 14.
However, according to data maintained by the U.S. Department of State, nearly two thousand Iraqi refugees have been placed in Missouri over the last ten years, with half of those placed in St. Louis.
To obtain refugee status a person must persuade the government that he or she would be persecuted if they were to return to their home country.
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Anna Marie Bolton is a reporter for Battleground State News.
Photo “Home Care Patient” by Myfuture.com. CC BY-ND 2.0.