By David Brand
Two Queens therapists were among eight mental healthcare providers charged with massive Medicaid fraud in federal court for the Eastern District of New York Thursday.
Ozone Park resident Danielle Scopinich and Forest Hills resident Patricia Hakim are charged with defrauding Medicaid and the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene for more than $600,000 by submitting false bills.
Scopinich, Hakim and six other therapists from the Bronx, Staten Island, Brooklyn and New Jersey worked with the New York State Early Intervention Program, which provides remedial services to developmentally delayed children from birth to age three.
The eight EIP therapists were arrested Thursday and made their first appearance before United States Magistrate Judge Sanket J. Bulsara.
“As alleged in the complaint, the defendants defrauded government agencies out of hundreds of thousands of dollars in public funds designated for therapeutic care for developmentally disabled children.” said U.S. Attorney Richard Donoghue. “The victims of this fraud include not only the children and their families who were deprived of the therapeutic care that these defendants claimed to have performed, but ultimately the taxpayers whose taxes support Medicaid.”
According to the criminal complaint, the eight therapists ran the scam between 2012 and 2018. During that time, they allegedly submitted thousands of phony session notes and accompanying invoices for non-existent EIP therapy sessions.
The state Medicaid system and the NYC DOHMH paid the defendants hundreds of thousands of dollars in reimbursement. Scopinich allegedly billed for more than 500 non-existent sessions and Hakim, more than 300, according to the criminal complaint.
But on several, the defendants were allegedly not in the place the therapy sessions occurred, according to the bills and notes. One therapist was on vacation in the Dominican Republic — indicated by her Facebook photos —but still allegedly submitted 51 phony invoices for EIP therapy sessions.
On other occasions, the defendants allegedly submitted documents containing the forged signatures of the children’s parents, guardians, teachers and daycare providers.
They also allegedly submitted invoices for therapy sessions with two different children at two different places at the exact same time.
“Rather than provide honest services, they chose to line their own pockets at the expense of taxpayers and the developmentally-delayed children and their families for whom these funds were targeted,” said FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge William Sweeney. “Today’s arrests should serve as a reminder that the FBI will continue to be vigilant in our effort to root out fraud and abuse in programs intended to serve the public when these programs are corrupted by greed.”
The six other defendants include Kaderrah Doyle and Marina Golfo of the Bronx, Cara Steinberg and Enock Mensah of New Jersey, Ego Onaga of Staten Island and Lyubov Beylina of Brooklyn.