A Los Angeles County physician whose referrals led to more than $1.7 million in fraudulent Medicare billing pleaded guilty on Aug. 25 to participating in a conspiracy to defraud Medicare by writing prescriptions for unnecesary durable medical equipment (DME), such as power wheelchairs.
Charles Okoye, 52, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud. Appearing before United States District Judge Michael W. Fitzgerald, Okoye admitted that he wrote prescriptions for medically unnecessary DME for patients referred to him through Adelco Medical Distributors, Inc., a DME supply company.
Between November 2008 and November 2011, Adelco recruited Medicare beneficiaries and took them to see Okoye, who would issue DME prescriptions — primarily for power wheelchairs — after giving the patients a single, cursory examination, according to Okoye’s plea agreement. Adelco then billed Medicare for providing the DME, which the beneficiaries did not want and often never used. In return for these referrals, Okoye received illegal kickbacks for every DME prescription from Adelco’s owner, Adeline Ekwebelem.
Okoye’s referrals led Adelco to submit approximately $1.7 million in fraudulent claims to Medicare, and Medicare paid Adelco more than $820,000.
Okoye also fraudulently billed Medicare more than $50,000 for services he claimed to have provided to the patients who received unnecessary prescriptions.
Ekwebelem, 51, is also charged in the case, and she is scheduled to go on trial before Judge Fitzgerald on Sept. 9.
The Adelco indictment charges four other defendants, three of whom have previously pleaded guilty. The final defendant is currently a fugitive.
In his plea agreement, Okoye also admitted that he engaged in a similar unlawful arrangement with another DME company, Esteem Medical Supply.
Okoye is scheduled to be sentenced by Fitzgerald on Dec. 8. He faces a statutory maximum sentence of 10 years in federal prison.
As part of his guilty plea, Okoye has agreed that the California Medical Board can revoke his license to practice medicine.
The investigation into Okoye, Ekwebelem and the other defendants involved in Adelco’s fraudulent scheme to defraud Medicare was conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Inspector General and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
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