"These doctors and health care professionals sold patients like commodities"
Ridhima Singh, aged 33, of Livermore, California, has been charged with fraud. Twenty-seven other people have also been accused of a major Bay Area Medicare fraud scheme.
The charges were announced on September 5, 2019, at the US Attorney’s Office in San Francisco.
The suspects have been accused of the scheme which involves millions of dollars in illegal kickbacks to health care professionals from the area’s largest home health care provider.
Singh was the CEO of Amity Home Health Care and Advent Care hospice.
She allegedly bribed doctors, nurses and other health care professionals to receive patient referrals through Medicare.
By doing so, she grew her company into the largest home health care provider in the Bay Area.
In exchange for patient referrals, Singh and others gave out $8 million in bribes, including $6 million in cash payments.
Some who referred patients also received luxury items, including designer goods and trips to Las Vegas.
Officials said the fraudulent referrals resulted in a total of $115 million.
Singh and 27 other defendants, including 13 doctors and five nurses, were charged in the alleged cash-for-patients scheme.
Twelve appeared in court on September 5, 2019, but did not enter pleas.
San Francisco’s deputy special agent in charge for the FBI Craig Fair said:
“These doctors and health care professionals sold patients like commodities by placing their own financial gains over the wellbeing of their patients and betrayed the basic principals of their profession.
“Health care patients are not for sale.”
He added that the alleged fraud scheme was uncovered following a multiyear undercover operation which is still ongoing.
According to court papers, authorities received a tip-off from two employees of another home health agency.
They complained to the inspector general of the US Department of Health and Human Services about the kickbacks at Amity and Advent.
One of the employees agreed to act as a witness and worked with an undercover FBI agent who pretended to be “someone representing investors”.
Officials said they began meeting with the suspects about setting up illegal kickbacks for another company.
Over several years, search warrants were executed and FBI agents looked through bank and financial records.
The documents revealed that Amity controlled most of the patient referrals in the Bay Area through its willingness to pay for them.
Ridhima Singh constantly pushed associates to get her more patient referrals.
In November 2018, she texted one associate:
“It’s been so many years and I know you are aware of what the expectations are.”
“I’m not here to fight I’m pretty clear cut and u know that. I’m drama free but things can get to my nerve when I don’t see the mutual understanding.”
David Anderson, the US Attorney for the Northern District of California, explained that the patients did not know about the fraud.
He said: “The patients are valuable to the scheme because they come with a Medicare benefit.
“The patients are the mechanism by which Medicare dollars are directed to Amity and Advent where normally under the law those referrals are supposed to be on the merits.
“Here it was based on the illegal provision of kickbacks.”
The suspects face a maximum of 10 years in prison and $500,000 if they are found guilty.
Singh faces additional charges of giving false statements to investigators and witness tampering that carry five and 10-year maximum prison sentences, respectively.
Mr Anderson added that home health care is ripe for fraud as it is one of the fastest-growing industries in the United States.
The San Fransisco Chronicle reported that Judge Joseph C Spero urged the defendants not to violate the terms of their bonds. He also said that the case may not reach a conclusion for years.
He told Ridhima Singh: “A complicated case like this could take years and you don’t want to be sitting in a jail cell.”