Southern California Physician and Clinical Laboratory Owners Charged in Federal Crackdown on Pandemic-Related Billing Fraud
Federal prosecutors build the new healthcare-related fraud cases on previous nationwide enforcement actions from 2022
Federal charges have once again been brought against a number of physicians and clinical laboratory owners in what the US Department of Justice described as the “largest ever” coordinated nationwide law enforcement effort against COVID-19 pandemic-related healthcare fraud.
The highest dollar amount of these frauds involved ENT physician Anthony Hao Dinh, DO, who allegedly defrauded the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) COVID-19 Uninsured Program for millions of dollars, and Lourdes Navarro, owner of Matias Clinical Laboratory, for allegedly “submitting over $358 million in false and fraudulent claims to Medicare, HRSA, and a private insurance company for laboratory testing” while performing “COVID-19 screening testing for nursing homes and other facilities with vulnerable elderly populations, as well as primary and secondary schools,” the press release states. Both court cases are being conducted in Southern California courtrooms.
The DOJ’s filing of charges came rather speedily, compared to other cases involving fraudulent clinical laboratory testing schemes pre-pandemic. The amount of money each defendant managed to generate in reimbursement from the fraud represents tens of thousands of patients. If feds were paying $100 per COVID-19 test, then the $153 million represents 153,000 patients, in just 18 to 24 months.
“Today’s announcement marks the largest-ever coordinated law enforcement action in the United States targeting healthcare fraud schemes that exploit the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite, Jr. (above), in an April 20 DOJ press release. “The Criminal Division’s Health Care Fraud Unit and our partners are committed to rooting out pandemic-related fraud and holding accountable anyone seeking to profit from a public health emergency.” Clinical laboratory managers may want to pay close attention to the DOJ’s prosecution of these newest cases of alleged COVID-19 fraud. (Photo copyright: Department of Justice.)
Matias Clinical Laboratory, Inc.
The DOJ first brought fraud charges against Lourdes Navarro, owner of Matias Clinical Laboratory (Matias) in Baldwin Park, California, in April 2022. The Dark Daily covered that federal crackdown in “California Clinical Laboratory Owners among 21 Defendants Indicted or Criminally Charged for COVID-19 Test Fraud and Other Schemes Totaling $214 Million.”
Then, in April of 2023, the DOJ filed expanded charges against the 18 defendants, including the owners of Matias which provided COVID-19 screening for schools, rehab facilities, and eldercare facilities, according to a United States Attorney’s Office, Central District of California press release.
Prosecutors allege that Navarro and her husband, Imran Shams, who operated Matias—also known as Health Care Providers Laboratory—perpetrated a scheme to perform medically unnecessary respiratory pathogen panel (RPP) tests on specimens collected for COVID-19 testing, even though physicians had not ordered the RPP tests and the specimens were collected from asymptomatic individuals.
In some cases, the indictment alleges, Navarro and Shams paid kickbacks and bribes to obtain the samples.
The indictment notes that reimbursement for RPP and other respiratory pathogen tests is generally “several times higher” than reimbursement for COVID-19 testing. Claims for the tests were submitted to Medicare and an unidentified private insurer, as well as the HRSA COVID-19 Uninsured Program, which provided support for COVID-19 testing and treatment for uninsured patients.
Claims to the HRSA falsely represented that “the tested individuals had been diagnosed with COVID-19, when in truth and in fact, the individuals had not been diagnosed with COVID-19 and the tests were for screening purposes only,” the First Superseding Indictment states.
The indictment further states that both Navarro and Shams had previously been barred from participating in Medicare and other federal healthcare programs due to past fraud convictions. Navarro, the indictment alleges, was reinstated in December 2018 after submitting a “false and fraudulent” application to the HHS Office of Inspector General.
It also alleges that Navarro and Shams concealed their ownership role in Matias so the lab could maintain billing privileges.
More Alleged Abuse of HRSA Uninsured Program
In a separate case, Federal prosecutors alleged that Anthony Hao Dinh, DO, an ear, nose, and throat physician in Orange County, California, engaged in a scheme to defraud the HRSA COVID-19 Uninsured Program as well.
Dinh, prosecutors allege, “submitted fraudulent claims for treatment of patients who were insured, billed for services that were not rendered, and billed for services that were not medically necessary.”
The criminal complaint, filed on April 10, alleges that Dinh submitted claims for approximately $230 million, enough to make him the program’s second-highest biller. He was paid more than $153 million, prosecutors allege, and “used fraud proceeds for high-risk options trading, losing over $100 million from November 2020 through February 2022,” states the US Attorney’s Office, Central District of California press release.
Dinh was also charged for allegedly attempting to defraud the federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program. He faces a maximum sentence of 50 years in federal prison, the press release states.
Dinh’s sister, Hang Trinh Dinh, 64, of Lake Forest, California, and Matthew Hoang Ho, 65, of Melbourne, Florida, are also charged in the complaint, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Both of these cases are notable because of the size of the fraud each defendant pulled off involving COVID-19 lab testing. Clinical laboratory managers may want to review the original court indictments. The documents show the brazenness of these fraudsters and detail how they may have induced other doctors to refer them testing specimens.