Los Angeles Jury Convicts Two Church Pastors and Their Employee of $14.2 Million Medicare Fraud Scheme
“Pastors Christopher Iruke and Connie Ikpoh abused their positions of trust and persuaded those who blindly trusted in them to steal millions of dollars from taxpayers and Medicare,” said Glenn R. Ferry, the Los Angeles Region’s Special Agent in Charge for the Office of Inspector General (OIG) of HHS. “Today’s verdicts show yet again that Iruke, Ikpoh, and others like them, can count on being aggressively pursued and brought to justice.”
“Today’s convictions will undoubtedly deter others from planning to abuse government programs created to help elderly and disabled Americans,” said Steven Martinez, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI in Los Angeles. “The FBI is committed to continuing to identify individuals using small business as a front for a criminal enterprise at the expense of our health care system.”
According to evidence introduced at trial, Iruke and Ikpoh were pastors at Arms of Grace Christian Center, a church that operated from 5700 Crenshaw Boulevard in Los Angeles, where Iruke and Ikpoh also operated Pascon Medical Supply, a fraudulent DME supply company. Iruke and Ikpoh hired several of their parishioners at Arms of Grace to assist them in running Pascon and another fraudulent DME supply company, Horizon Medical Equipment and Supply Inc. Horizon was owned by Ikpoh, who also worked as a nurse at two Los Angeles-area hospitals.
According to evidence presented at trial, Iruke, Ikpoh, Marroquin and their co-conspirators used fraudulent prescriptions and documents that Iruke purchased from a number of illicit sources to bill Medicare for expensive, high-end power wheelchairs and orthotics that were medically unnecessary or never provided. These power wheelchairs cost approximately $900 per wheelchair wholesale, but were billed to Medicare at a rate of approximately $6,000 per wheelchair.
Evidence introduced at trial established that when it appeared to Iruke that he would have to close Pascon due to an audit by Medicare, Iruke convinced his sister, Jummal Joy Ibrahim, and a member of Arms of Grace, Asia Fowler, to allow him to use their names and identities to open two new fraudulent DME supply companies. These companies, Contempo Medical Equipment Inc. and Ladera Medical Equipment Inc., also operated from Los Angeles. After Pascon and Horizon closed, Iruke, Ikpoh, Marroquin and their co-conspirators continued to operate the fraud scheme from Contempo and Ladera.
Witnesses who sold fraudulent prescriptions and documents to Iruke testified that they and others paid cash kickbacks to street-level marketers to offer Medicare beneficiaries free power wheelchairs and other DME in exchange for the beneficiaries’ Medicare card numbers and personal information. These witnesses testified that they and their associates used this information to create fraudulent prescriptions and medical documents which they sold to Iruke and the operators of other fraudulent DME supply companies for $1,100 to $1,500 per prescription. One witness testified that Iruke was nicknamed the “Trash Man” because he purchased fraudulent prescriptions in bulk and took prescriptions that other DME supply company operators did not want, including prescriptions for beneficiaries who lived outside of Los Angeles. In some instances, Iruke and his co-conspirators used the Medicare card numbers and identities of beneficiaries who were dead to bill Medicare for DME.
Trial testimony established that Iruke took extensive efforts to conceal the fraud scheme and his involvement with the companies. One witness who worked at the companies testified that Iruke directed her and Marroquin to refer to the fraudulent prescriptions and documents he purchased as “donuts” or “jobs” because Iruke feared law enforcement was listening to their conversations. This witness also testified that Iruke directed her and Marroquin to lie to state and Medicare inspectors about his involvement with Contempo and Ladera when the inspectors visited the companies. Evidence introduced at trial established that during an August 2009 interview with federal law enforcement agents at Ladera, Marroquin lied repeatedly about how Ladera obtained business and Iruke’s involvement with the company.
Witness testimony established that shortly after agents visited Ladera, Iruke called a meeting at a park, and directed Marroquin and Darawn Vasquez, a member of Arms of Grace who worked at the supply companies, not to talk to law enforcement. Iruke provided Marroquin and Vasquez with cellular telephones, and directed them to use the phones in order to prevent law enforcement from intercepting their conversations. After this meeting, Iruke and Vasquez met at Arms of Grace, and shredded evidence of the fraud scheme. When the shredder overheated, Iruke and Vasquez flushed the evidence down the toilet.