Houston, Texas - A Houston, Texas patient recruiter was sentenced to 188 months in prison Wednesday for her role in a $20 million scheme to pay illegal health care kickbacks to physicians and Medicare beneficiaries in order to fraudulently bill for medically unnecessary home health services, and to launder the proceeds.
Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Ryan Patrick of the Southern District of Texas, Special Agent in Charge Perrye K. Turner of the FBI’s Houston Field Office and Special Agent in Charge C.J. Porter of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General’s (HHS-OIG) Dallas Field Office made the announcement.
Egondu “Kate” Koko, 54, of Houston, was sentenced by Chief U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal of the Southern District of Texas. Judge Rosenthal also ordered the defendant to pay $12.9 million in restitution and to forfeit $1,378,552.00. Koko pleaded guilty in October 2018 to one count of conspiracy to pay and receive health care kickbacks and one count of conspiracy to launder monetary instruments.
As part of her guilty plea, Koko admitted to being a patient recruiter for Criseven Health Management, Beechwood Home Health, JMM Home Health and Trinity Healthcare Service, home health agencies that operated in the Houston area. Koko was also the owner and operator of Circuit Wide Home Health Services, a home health company. Koko admitted that she paid illegal kickbacks and bribes to physicians and patients for paperwork necessary for Criseven, Beechwood, JMM, Trinity and Circuit Wide (collectively, “the HHAs”) to bill Medicare. Koko and her co-conspirators submitted and were paid more than $9.5 million but less than $25 million in claims to Medicare for home health services purportedly provided by the HHAs, Koko admitted.
Koko further admitted to committing money laundering by opening a bank account under the identity of Person A, a Nigerian national. Koko transferred proceeds from her fraud on the United States from accounts controlled by Koko into the bank account of the Nigerian national. To further the scheme, Koko purchased a home using the funds from the Nigerian national’s account, which were proceeds from the fraud, she admitted.
This case was investigated by the FBI and HHS-OIG. Trial Attorneys Drew Pennebaker and Catherine Wagner of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section prosecuted the case.
The Medicare Fraud Strike Force is part of a joint initiative between the Department of Justice and HHS to focus their efforts to prevent and deter fraud and enforce current anti-fraud laws around the country. Since its inception in March 2007, the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, which maintains 14 strike forces operating in 23 districts, has charged nearly 4,000 defendants who have collectively billed the Medicare program for more than $14 billion. In addition, the HHS Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, working in conjunction with HHS-OIG, are taking steps to increase accountability and decrease the presence of fraudulent providers.