COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - The largest Medicare fraud scheme in the history of the Federal Bureau of Investigation originated in South Carolina and involves telemarketers peddling medical braces, international call centers, and kickbacks for those who participated in the United States to the tune of nearly $1 billion, U.S. Attorney in South Carolina Sherri Lydon said.
The scheme, entitled “Operation Brace Yourself," has more than 80 search warrants in 17 federal districts and originated in Charleston.
“The same spoon who feeds the drug defendants, the felons in possession of firearms, and corrupt officials will also serve those companies and individuals who dare to commit Medicare fraud,” Lydon said. “Medicare fraud is not a victimless crime. Ultimately, it is the taxpayer who will be left with paying higher healthcare premiums and out-of-pocket cost that will result because of fraud in the Medicare system.”
The uncovered scheme went as follows: Medicare customers would be targeted in ads for Medicare premiums. The customer would call a call center in the Phillippines and the victim would be up-sold “free to low-cost durable medical braces” for ailments in knees, necks, and other joints. The call centers paid illegal medical kickbacks and bribes to managers and operators of tele-medical companies and others who participated in exchange for “DME (durable medical equipment) orders for those Medicare beneficaries.”
The tele-medical companies, in turn, would then allegedly pay physicians to write prescriptions for Medicare patients for these items, Lydon said. The tele-medical companies and the doctors had not previously done physical examinations on patients who had Medicare benefits.
The victims targeted in this scheme were “seniors.”
Those participating would get financial kickbacks, and those accused in the scheme spent the money - nearly $1 billion - on luxury items such as real estate, cars, and yachts.
Matthew Line, the Special Agent in Charge of the Charlotte Field Office of the Internal Revenue Service - Criminal Investigations Division, said, “These individuals were motivated by greed. These defendants concocted an elaborate scheme to exploit the U.S. healthcare system.”
Lydon said it’s the largest Medicare bust the FBI, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the IRS had ever seen, calling it a “nationwide fraudulent scheme.”
You can watch the full press conference by clicking here.