Whistleblower News & Articles
The opioid crisis has been devastating communities across the United States. Rhode Island has not been immune to its effects. But it’s not just the scourge of the addiction that the government is having to fight. They also must track down fraudsters seeking to make a quick buck in the ever-growing field of addiction treatment. In a recent development in this ongoing fight, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Rhode Island arrested several operators of an addiction treatment chain for alleged health care fraud. This is unfortunately yet another example of addiction treatment center fraud.
The government charged the operator of the treatment center, Michael Brier, with millions of dollars of health care fraud, aggravated identity theft, money laundering and obstruction. They also charged the treatment center, Recovery Connections Centers of America, Inc. (RCCA) and its former supervisory counselor, Mi Ok Bruining, 62, of Warwick, RI, with health care fraud.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office alleged that the operators had defrauded insurance providers and the federal government of millions of dollars, all while providing substandard care to their patients. Specifically, Defendants allegedly:
In addition, Brier purported to practice medicine. He also wrote and caused to be filled fraudulent prescriptions using the names and prescriber information of doctors without their permission. Brier is also alleged to have falsified a document, leading to the obstruction charge. He also allegedly used proceeds of the fraud to purchase real estate in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
This is not merely a financial crime. As U.S. Attorney Zachary Cunha emphasized:
What makes the fraud scheme that we have charged today particularly pernicious – is that not only was this scheme, as we allege, designed to defraud by enriching these defendants with federal and private healthcare dollars they did not earn, but that in the process it cheated a vulnerable population of recovery patients out of the full, genuine support and treatment that they need to have a chance at recovery.
Joseph R. Bonavolonta, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Boston Division, further emphasized the seriousness of the charges:
Affidavit in Support of Criminal Charge
The allegations set forth in this case represent one of the most brazen and egregious examples of health care fraud the FBI has seen here in Rhode Island in recent history, and make no mistake, it is not a victimless crime. Anytime the integrity of our federal health care programs is undermined, we all pay the price through the cost of higher insurance premiums, greater out-of-pocket expenses, and co-pays, and even reduced or lost benefits.
Fraud by addiction treatment centers is all too common.
In 2021, addiction treatment center Clean Slate agreed to pay $6 million to partially resolve allegations of fraud brought forth by our client. Our complaint alleged that CleanSlate and its owner required expensive urine drug tests at every patient visit. They ran tests regardless of medical necessity. Moreover, these tests were always directed to CleanSlate’s own clinical laboratory. The defendants also illegally backdated prescriptions. Resolutions with additional states and the our client are forthcoming.
Also in 2021, the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office indicted two individuals in connection with preying on people with substance use disorder, sending them to treatment facilities in Florida, and signing them up for false insurance policies in order to make a profit.
Addiction Treatment Center fraud has been so pervasive that Congress recently passed a law specifically targeting it. The Eliminating Kickbacks in Recovery Act of 2018 (EKRA) is designed to fight the scourge of kickbacks being paid for referrals to recovery homes, clinical treatment facilities, or laboratories. The jury is still out as to whether this has put an end to this troubled practice.
WLC salutes the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Rhode Island, and all of its law enforcement partners, for this important investigation and prosecution. In particular, we recognize First Assistant U.S. Attorney Sara Minon Bloom and AUSA Kevin Love Rowland who are leading the case for the office. And we direct anyone needing assistance to the government’s press release, which includes resources for patients who may be impacted by this action and/or who need general assistance in the area of recovery.
The Whistleblower Law Collaborative LLC, based in Boston, devotes its practice entirely to representing clients in bringing actions under the federal and state False Claims Acts and other whistleblower programs. Under the False Claims Act, a private citizen (known as a “relator”) who suspects or knows of fraud against the government can act as a whistleblower and file a sealed complaint on behalf of the government. If the case is successful, as it was in our Clean Slate and numerous other matters, the relator is entitled to a share of the government’s recovery.