As the public corruption trials of former Luzerne and Lackawanna county officials make headlines, federal prosecutors in our area are targeting another crime, health care fraud.
Federal statistics show health care fraud prosecutions nationwide are on pace to almost double this year. Locally, prosecutors targeted medical firms and individuals believed to be stealing hundreds of thousands of your money.
"Fraudsters have stepped up their game because of the amounts of money involved in health care have increased incredibly in the last 15 years," says Peter Smith, the U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Pennsylvania. "It's relatively easy, unfortunately to hide fraudulent activity."
But Smith and other federal prosecutors are fighting back, and in our area prosecutors recently have been winning a handful of health care fraud cases.
Gregory Salko, the owner of a Carbondale Medical Agency, pleaded guilty to falsifying Medicare records and violating a patient's privacy.
A judge fined Salko $20,000 in 2009, and banned him from taking part in Medicare for five years.
In May, federal prosecutors announced the sentencing of the chairperson of the American Hose and Chemical Fire Company in Mount Carmel. Thea Tafner of Northumberland County is serving a 14 year prison term after diverting $3,000,000 in health care payments to her personal bank account. Tafner owes almost $2,000,000 in restitution.
Earlier this month, a federal judge sentenced Paul Chromey, the owner of a Plains Township orthotics footwear firm, to a year in prison for fraudulently billing Medicare. Prosecutors said when he ran the scam, in Luzerne County, he stole $750,000.
Smith confirms federal agents have several health care fraud investigations underway in this region, in some cases, resulting from a tip from the public.
"We want the public to participate and contribute," said Smith, "because ultimately, they're the victims."
The U.S. Attorney General's Office wants anyone with information on Medicare fraud, or other forms of health care fraud where taxpayers get cheated to call 1-800-HHS-TIPS.
Some of the recent prosecutions resulted from everyday patients seeing wrongdoing, and reporting the crime.