Three Individuals Sentenced for $3.5 Million COVID-19 Relief Fraud Scheme
Friday, February 9, 2024
Headlines that Matter for Companies and Executives in Regulated Industries

Three Individuals Sentenced for $3.5 Million COVID-19 Relief Fraud Scheme

On February 6, three individuals were sentenced for fraudulently obtaining and misusing Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans that the US Small Business Administration (SBA) guaranteed under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

According to court documents and evidence presented at trial, in 2020 and 2021, defendants Khadijah X. Chapman, Daniel C. Labrum, and Eric J.O’Neil submitted falsified documents to financial institutions for fictitious businesses to fraudulently obtain $3.5 million in PPP loans intended for small businesses struggling with the economic impact of COVID-19. Chapman was convicted in November 2023 of bank fraud. Labrum and O’Neil pleaded guilty in 2023 to bank fraud. Following their convictions, Chapman was sentenced to three years and 10 months in prison, Labrum was sentenced to two years in prison, and O’Neil was sentenced to two years and three months in prison.

Read the US Department of Justice’s (DOJ) press release here.

False Claims Act Complaint Filed Against Former President and Co-Owner of Mobile Cardiac PET Scan Provider

The DOJ filed a complaint in the US District Court for the Southern District of Texas under the False Claims Act (FCA) against Rick Nassenstein, former president, chief financial officer, and co-owner of Illinois-based Cardiac Imaging Inc. (CII), which provides mobile cardiac positron emission tomography (PET) scans.

The complaint alleges that Nassenstein caused CII to pay excessive, above-market fees to doctors who referred patients to CII for cardiac PET scans. The government alleges that the compensation arrangements violated the Stark Law, which prohibits health care providers from billing Medicare for services referred by a physician with whom the provider has a compensation arrangement unless the arrangement meets certain statutory and regulatory requirements. Claims knowingly submitted to Medicare in violation of the Stark Law also violate the federal FCA.

The complaint alleges that CII provided cardiac PET scans on a mobile basis and paid the referring physicians, usually cardiologists, to provide physician supervision as required by Medicare rules. From at least 2017 through June 2023, Nassenstein allegedly caused CII to enter into compensation arrangements with referring cardiologists that provided for payment to the cardiologists as if they were fully occupied supervising CII’s scans, even though they were actually providing care to other patients in their offices or patients who were not even on site. CII’s fees also allegedly compensated the cardiologists for additional services the physicians did not actually provide. The complaint alleges that CII paid over $40 million in unlawful fees to physicians and submitted over 75,000 false claims to Medicare for services provided pursuant to referrals that violated the Stark Law.

The lawsuit was originally a qui tam complaint filed by a former billing manager at CII, and the United States, through the DOJ, filed a complaint in partial intervention to participate in the lawsuit.

The case, captioned US ex rel. Pinto v. Nassenstein, No. 18-cv-2674 (S.D. Tex.), follows an $85.5 million settlement in October 2023 by CII and its current owner, Sam Kancherlapalli, for claims arising from this conduct.

Read the DOJ’s press release here.

San Diego Restaurant Owner Charged with Tax and COVID-19 Relief Fraud Schemes

On February 2, a federal grand jury in San Diego returned a superseding indictment charging a California restaurant owner with wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, tax evasion, filing false tax returns, conspiracy to defraud the United States, conspiracy to commit money laundering, and failing to file tax returns. 

According to the indictment, Leronce Suel, the majority owner of Rockstar Dough LLC and Chicken Feed LLC, conspired with a business partner to underreport over $1.7 million in gross receipts on Rockstar Dough LLC’s 2020 federal corporate tax return. From March 2020 to June 2022, Suel and the business partner then allegedly used this fraudulent return to qualify for COVID-19-related loans pursuant to the PPP and Restaurant Revitalization Funding program. In connection with those loans, Suel also allegedly certified falsely that he used the loan money for payroll purposes only. The indictment alleges that Suel and his business partner laundered the fraudulently obtained funds through cash withdrawals from their business bank accounts and stashed more than $2.4 million in cash in their home.

The indictment further charges that Suel failed to report millions of dollars received in cash and personal expenses paid for by his businesses as income, in addition to reporting false depreciable assets and business losses. 

If convicted, Suel faces prison sentences up to 30 years for each count of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud, 10 years for each count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, five years for tax evasion and conspiracy to defraud the United States, three years for each count of filing false tax returns, and one year for each count of failing to file tax returns.

Read the DOJ’s press release here.

 

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