A hospice executive has been sentenced to 20 years in federal prison for multiple counts of health care fraud in connection with a scheme where thousands of patients were falsely told they had less than six months to live so they could be enrolled in long-term end-of-life care.
Rodney Mesquias, 48, the owner of Merida Health Care Group, was sentenced on Wednesday and also ordered to pay $120 million in restitution. According to officials, the scheme involved offering physicians kickbacks for fraudulent referrals, and some physicians were invited to ritzy nightclub parties in Las Vegas for participating.
“Mesquias funded his lavish lifestyle by exploiting patients with long-term, incurable diseases by enrolling them in expensive but unnecessary hospice services,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian C. Rabbitt of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “This significant sentence represents the department’s continued commitment to pursue those who orchestrate and commit healthcare fraud schemes.”
The CEO of Merida Health Care Group, Henry McInnes, 48, was also found guilty on similar charges last year but has not yet been sentenced.
“Financial healthcare fraud is abhorrent enough, but to fraudulently diagnose patients with dementia or Alzheimer’s is the pinnacle of medical cruelness to both the patient and their family,” said U.S. Attorney Ryan Patrick of the Southern District of Texas in a statement. “They falsely gave patients life ending diagnosis and they will pay the price with years behinds bars.”
According to the Department of Justice, Merida Health Care Group, Mesquias, and McInnis “aggressively enrolled” patients with long-term incurable diseases into their program, including people from nursing homes and housing projects, and some stayed on the program’s services for multiple years — well beyond the six-month maximum for hospice care. The duo also reportedly produced false medical records to try and avoid charges, in an attempt to convince the court the hospice patients were actually dying when they were not.
Marketers for the Merida Health Care Group also falsely informed some patients they would die within six months, and “sent chaplains to lie to the patients,” according to the DOJ. Mesquias fired employees who refused to participate in the scheme, which spanned nearly a decade. Some of the patients the scheme targeted, per the DOJ, were still “walking, driving, working and even coaching athletic sporting events in some instances.”
“Families seek to give comfort and support to their ailing loved ones when all other medical options are gone,” said Special Agent in Charge Christopher Combs, FBI San Antonio Division. “It is unconscionable and evil to prey upon the most vulnerable in our community to commit fraud against government-funded programs. The FBI is committed to protecting our communities from those who may not have the strength to protect themselves.”
In addition to the six counts of health care fraud, Mesquias and McInnis were both convicted on one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud, one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, and one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice.
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