20 arrested for Medi-Cal fraud ring

LOS ANGELES Federal authorities had been working on the case for nearly two years. They named 42 people in an indictment, and arrested about 20 of those individuals early Thursday morning.

Many of those arrested worked as nurses, but they had no training. Authorities say they scammed Medi-Cal of $4.6 million and that the fraud was linked to the care of handicapped children.

The FBI says a woman, who previously pleaded guilty, ran a Santa Fe Springs-based company called Medcare Plus Home Health Providers. Priscilla Villabroza hired people to provide care to disabled Medi-Cal patients who were not licensed vocational nurses. Villabroza then billed Medi-Cal as if they were skilled nurses.

"This investigation uncovered a group of individuals who conspired to put greed and self-interest above providing quality health-care services to some of our most vulnerable Medi-Cal patients," said Glenn Ferry of the Department of Health and Human Services.

The /*U.S. Attorney's Office*/ says the people that are named in the indictment not only bilked California taxpayers out of millions, but they also put patients' lives at risk.

"A nurse was unable to replace a tracheotomy tube that had fallen out of a young patient's neck. Fortunately, in that case, the child's mother was present and saved the child's life," said Thomas O'Brien, U.S. Attorney. "In another case, in which there was a problem with a tracheotomy tube, which had been disconnected … the imposter nurse simply ran away when she was unable to provide the assistance to the patient."

The government said a key player in the scheme was Susan Bendigo, a registered nurse who was indicted last year. She's now a fugitive who left the U.S. during the investigation.

"None of them were licensed by the state of California to give home health-care," O'Brien said. "There are a number of individuals in this particular operation who are not in this country legally."

Authorities received a tip in the case, which led to arrests. They are encouraging anyone with knowledge of Medi-Cal fraud to come forward. Officials often times offer rewards in similar cases.

Anyone who suspects Medi-Cal fraud related to the use of unlicensed nurses or any other type of Medi-Cal or Medicare fraud may report their concerns to the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Inspector General hotline at (800) HHS-TIPS or (800-477 8477).

You may also call the California Department of Justice's Bureau of Medi-Cal Fraud and Elder Abuse hotline at (800) 722-0432.

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