LA Pastor & Wife Sentenced For $14 Million Medicare Fraud
By Mary Johnson
When federal HEAT investigators started asking questions about the $6,000 wheel chairs for which he billed Medicare, Los Angeles pastor Christopher Iruke shoved page upon page of incriminating documents into the paper shredder at his storefront church — until the machine overheated. Then he tried stuffing the papers that linked him to bogus prescriptions for the wheel chairs down the toilet. Iruke and his wife (and fellow pastor), Connie Ikpoh, were recently found guilty of conspiracy and healthcare fraud. The couple operated four fraudulent medical supply companies — including one out of the now defunct Arms of Grace Christian Center —filing Medicare claims for $14.2 million.
Iruke received about $6.7 million in reimbursements from the federal government before the feds shut him down. Authorities said that Iruke, his wife, and several associates billed Medicare for expensive, high-end power wheel chairs and orthotics that weren’t medically necessary, some going to patients capable of walking on their own. (One man questioned by federal authorities did jumping jacks to prove it.) Evidence introduced at the trial showed that Ikpoh and Iruke diverted the money to fund a lavish lifestyle, several luxury cars, travel to Nigeria, and about a half million dollars worth of remodeling of Iruke’s home. And while we can be glad the feds finally shut that one down, this is just one case out of hundreds. Our files are bulging with stories of equally outrageous Medicare frauds.
Medicare loses tens of billions of precious taxpayer dollars and scarce beneficiary premium payments every year. The Department of Health and Human Services recently estimated that improper Medicare payments in fiscal year 2011 cost $43 billion. That ripped off every senior and disabled person with Medicare by about $18 every month in higher Part B premiums last year. Lawmakers are debating major changes to Medicare that would make beneficiaries pay more for their benefits, and wait longer to become eligible. The Congressional Quarterly reports that in recent weeks lawmakers in both the House and the Senate have been working to put comprehensive deficit reduction plans into legislative form.
TSCL believes that before enacting any changes that would make beneficiaries pay even more than they already do, lawmakers must first provide more effective anti-fraud measures to keep criminals out of Medicare.
To learn more about Medicare fraud, what you can do to “blow the whistle” and how to check your claims, see the Medicare publication “Help Prevent Fraud”, CMS Product No. 11491.
You can check claims and get publications online at www.Medicare.gov or call 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227).
Sources: “Los Angeles Church Pastor Sentenced For $14.2 Million Medicare Fraud Scheme,” Department of Justice, February 27, 2012. “Pastor, 2 Others Found Guilty In Medicare Fraud,” Victoria Kim, Los Angeles Times, August 11, 2011. “Deficit Reduction Talks Live On,” Frances Symes, CQ, March 2, 2012.