California Clinical Laboratory Owners among 21 Defendants Indicted or Criminally Charged for COVID-19 Test Fraud and Other Schemes Totaling $214 Million

Federal agents allege ‘healthcare fraud abuses erode the integrity and trust patients have with those in the healthcare industry’

Here’s yet another example of how federal and state law enforcement agencies intend to further crack down on fraud involving COVID-19 testing, financial relief programs, vaccination cards, and other pandemic-related programs.

The United States Department of Justice (DOJ) announced it has charged the owners of a Calif. clinical laboratory—as well as 19 other defendants—for their roles in fraudulent billing, kickbacks, and money laundering schemes to defraud Medicare of more than $214 million.

Imran Shams and Lourdes Navarro—owners of Matias Clinical Laboratory, Inc., in Baldwin Park, Glendale, Calif.—which was doing business as Health Care Providers Laboratory, Inc. (Matias)—were charged along with the other defendants with participating in fraud that took place in nine federal court districts.

The indictment alleges the pair paid kickbacks to marketers to obtain specimens and test orders. The lab company owners then laundered their profits through shell corporations in the US, transferred the money to foreign countries, and used it to purchase “real estate, luxury items, and goods and services for their personal use,” according to court documents.

“While millions of Americans were suffering and desperately seeking testing and treatment for COVID-19, some saw an opportunity for profit,” said Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division Kenneth A. Polite Jr., JD, during a news conference at the Justice Department, The New York Times reported.

“The actions of these criminals are unacceptable, and the FBI, working in coordination with our law enforcement partners, will continue to investigate and pursue those who exploit the integrity of the healthcare industry for profit,” said Luis Quesada of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) Criminal Investigative Division in a press release.

Assistant Director Luis Quesada of the FBI

“Throughout the pandemic, we have seen trusted medical professionals orchestrate and carry out egregious crimes against their patients all for financial gain,” said Assistant Director Luis Quesada (above) of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division in a DOJ press release. “These healthcare fraud abuses erode the integrity and trust patients have with those in the healthcare industry, particularly during a vulnerable and worrisome time for many individuals.” Clinical laboratories throughout the US should be aware of increased scrutiny to Medicare billing by the DOJ. (Photo copyright: El Paso Times.)

According to the DOJ’s Summary of Criminal Charges, “Matias” Clinical Laboratory also “performed and billed Medicare for urinalysis, routine blood work, and other tests, despite the fact that Shams had been excluded from all participation in Medicare for several decades.” The indictment alleges that Shams and Navarro fraudulently concealed Sham’s role in the clinical laboratory and his prior healthcare-related criminal convictions.

Navarro’s attorney, Mark Werksman, JD, Managing Partner at Werksman, Jackson and Quinn LLP, told The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) Navarro would plead not guilty to charges.

“She always tried to follow the law and provide appropriate and quality testing services to the laboratory’s patients. She looks forward to clearing her name in court,” Werksman said.

However, both Navarro and Shams have a checkered past with law enforcement agencies. According to a State of California Department of Justice news release, in 2000, the two were convicted in California on felony counts of Medi-Cal fraud, grand theft, money laundering, and identity theft for using the names of legitimate physicians without permission and filing thousands of false claims with the state for medical tests never performed.

The Calif. Attorney General’s Division of Medi-Cal Fraud and Elder Abuse (DMFEA) seized approximately $1.1 million in uncashed warrants, which were returned to the Medi-Cal program. Since the 2000 case, Shams has been barred from filing for Medicare reimbursement, the New York Times reported.

Other Felony Indictments and Criminal Complaints for Healthcare Fraud

In a separate case, the DOJ announced Ron K. Elfenbein, MD, 47, of Arnold, Md., was charged by indictment with three counts of healthcare fraud in connection with an alleged scheme to defraud the US of more than $1.5 million in claims that were billed in connection with COVID-19 testing. Elfenbein is owner and medical director of Drs Ergent Care, LLC, which operates as FirstCall Medical Center. Elfenbein allegedly told his employees to submit claims to Medicare and other insurers for “moderate-complexity office visits” even though the COVID-19 test patients’ visits lasted five minutes or less.

And in April, the DOJ filed a criminal complaint against Colorado resident, Robert Van Camp, 53, for allegedly forging and selling hundreds of fake COVID-19 vaccination cards, which he sold to buyers and distributors in at least a dozen states.  

“Van Camp allegedly told an undercover agent that he had sold cards to ‘people that are going to the Olympics in Tokyo, three Olympians and their coach in Tokyo, Amsterdam, Hawaii, Costa Rica, Honduras,’” the DOJ said in a news release, CNBC reported.

Van Camp also allegedly told that agent, “I’ve got a company, a veterinary company, has 30 people going to Canada every f— day, Canada back. Mexico is big. And like I said, I’m in 12 or 13 states, so until I get caught and go to jail, f— it, I’m taking the money, (laughs)! I don’t care,” the DOJ stated.

Clinical laboratory directors and pathologists know these fraud charges provide another example of how the misdeeds of a few reflect on the entire healthcare industry, potentially causing people to lose trust in organizations tasked with providing their healthcare. 

Andrea Downing Peck

Related Information:

Justice Department Announces Nationwide Coordinated Law Enforcement Action to Combat Healthcare-Related COVID-19 Fraud

Alleged Covid-19 Fraud Schemes Totaling $150 Million Draw Criminal Charges

Maryland Doctor Facing Federal Indictment for COVID-19 Healthcare Fraud Scheme Is Part of a Nationwide Coordinated Law Enforcement Action to Combat Health Care Related COVID-19 Fraud Announced by the Justice Department Today

Attorney General Lockyer Announces Four Arrests, Two Convictions in Crackdown on Medi-Cal Fraud by Blood Laboratories

U.S. Department of Justice: Summary of Criminal Charges

U.S. v. Imran Shams and Lourdes Navarro, aka ‘Lulu,’ Defendants

DOJ Announces $150 Million in COVID Health Fraud, Bogus Vaccination Prosecutions Nationwide

The Justice Department Charged 21 People over Coronavirus-Related Fraud Schemes

Maryland Doctor Facing Federal Indictment for COVID-19 Healthcare Fraud Scheme Is Part of a Nationwide Coordinated Law Enforcement Action to Combat Healthcare Related COVID-19 Fraud Announced by the Justice Department Today