13 sentenced to federal prison following $27 million healthcare fraud

Thirteen defendants involved in the $27 million Novus healthcare fraud have been sentenced to a...
Thirteen defendants involved in the $27 million Novus healthcare fraud have been sentenced to a combined 84 years in federal prison(WHSV)
Published: Aug. 30, 2022 at 1:28 PM CDT
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DALLAS, Texas (NEWS RELEASE) - Thirteen defendants involved in the $27 million Novus healthcare fraud have been sentenced to a combined 84 years in federal prison, announced Texas Tech School of Law graduate and U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas Chad E. Meacham.

According to plea papers and evidence presented to a jury, Novus Health Services, a Dallas-based hospice agency, defrauded Medicare by submitting materially false claims for hospice services, providing kickbacks for referrals, and violating HIPAA to recruit beneficiaries.  Novus employees also dispensed Schedule II controlled substances to patients without the guidance of medical professionals and moved patients to a new hospice company in order to avoid a Medicare suspension.

CEO Bradley J. Harris eventually admitted to the fraud and testified against two physicians who elected to proceed to trial.

He told the jury that instead of relying on the expertise of licensed medical professionals, he and Novus’ nurses determined which medications and dosages patients would receive, dispensing drugs like morphine and hydrocodone using pre-signed prescription pads. Novus medical directors, including Dr. Mark Gibbs and Dr. Laila Hirjee, were supposed to oversee the care of these patients and examine patients face-to-face to certify that they were terminally ill.  Often, however, the medical directors signed off on patient care plans without properly reviewing patients files and falsely certified they had completed in-person examinations when they had not.

As Director of Operations Melanie Murphey testified at trial, “I was the doctor.”

Mr. Harris and the nurses also determined which patients would be admitted to or discharged from hospice care without any physician involvement.  Mr. Harris also admitted to paying Novus physicians kickbacks – disguised as medical director salaries – to induce them to refer patients to Novus facilities.

When Mr. Harris realized he could avoid exceeding Medicare’s aggregate hospice cap by enrolling an influx of first-time hospice patients, he negotiated an agreement with a company called Express Medical that allowed him to access potential patients confidential medical information in return for using Express Medical for laboratory tests and home health visits. Novus staff attempted to recruit Express Medical patients for Novus services, regardless of their eligibility.

Those convicted in the scheme include:

  • Sam Anderson, Novus VP of Marketing, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit healthcare fraud and was sentenced to 33 months in federal prison
  • Patricia Armstrong, Novus triage nurse, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit healthcare fraud and was sentenced to 84 months in federal prison
  • Slade Brown, Novus Director of Marketing, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit healthcare fraud and was sentenced to 48 months in federal prison
  • Dr. Mark Gibbs, Novus Medical Director, was convicted at trial of one count of conspiracy to commit healthcare fraud, two counts of healthcare fraud, and one count conspiracy to obstruct justice and was sentenced to 156 months in federal prison
  • Amy Harris, Novus VP of Patient Services and wife of Bradley Harris, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice and was sentenced to 38 months in federal prison
  • Bradley Harris, Novus CEO, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit healthcare fraud and one count of healthcare fraud and aiding and abetting and was sentenced to 159 months in federal prison
  • Dr. Laila Hirjee, Novus Medical Director, was convicted at trial of one count of conspiracy to commit healthcare fraud, three counts of healthcare fraud and one count of unlawful distribution of a controlled substance and was sentenced to 120 months in federal prison
  • Dr. Charles Leach, Novus Medical Director, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit healthcare fraud and was sentenced to 57 months in federal prison
  • Tammie Little, Novus Registered Nurse, was convicted at trial of one count of conspiracy to commit healthcare fraud and three counts of healthcare fraud and aiding and abetting and was sentenced to 33 months in federal prison
  • Jessica Love, Novus Registered Nurse, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit healthcare fraud and was sentenced to 102 months in federal prison
  • Melanie Murphey, Novus Director of Operations, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit healthcare fraud and was sentenced to 66 months in federal prison
  • Ali Rizvi, Express Medical owner, pleaded guilty to one count of wrongful use of individually identifiable heath information and was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison
  • Taryn Stuart, Novus Licensed Vocational Nurse, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit healthcare fraud and was sentenced to 96 months in federal prison

The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Dallas Field Office, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG), and the Texas Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit conducted the investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Marty Basu and Donna Strittmatter Max prosecuted the case along with U.S. Attorney Chad Meacham.