California Well-Represented on Federal Healthcare “Fraudsters” List

Monday, August 20, 2012

U.S. agencies recovered $4.1 billion from perpetrators of healthcare fraud in 2011 and Californians did their bit to boost the numbers. But not everyone the government suspects of fraud is arrested, tried and locked up. Some are still on the run.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Inspector General maintains a wanted list of people indicted for a range of offenses, and the list, which has grown to 170, is peppered with some of California’s not-so-finest citizens.

The most-wanted list was first unveiled in February 2011 and HHS prominently displays its 10 favorite scofflaws on its website. Among them is Ekaterina Shlykova, indicted on 67 charges that show a wide range of interests that extend beyond health fraud, including identity theft, money laundering, forgery and theft. But HHS would like to talk to her about $53 million it believes was fraudulently obtained from Medicare.

Shlykova was office manager for Los Angeles-based Lazarus Jewelry, an alleged “shell” company where authorities found dozens of stolen IDs and hundreds of bank account instruments. Investigators believe that Shlykova and her co-conspirators were involved in a scheme in which various durable medical equipment companies submitted false Medicare claims for dead and out-of-area beneficiaries. These companies then allegedly used Lazarus Jewelry to launder the claims.

Susan Bendigo didn’t make the Top Ten list, but the Santa Fe Springs resident and co-conspirators are suspected of bilking Medi-Cal of $17.1 million in fraudulent claims. About $5 million of those claims were submitted by Bendigo for services that were allegedly performed by unlicensed staff that she may have recruited. She is believed to now be living in the Philippines.

Leonard Nwafor is small potatoes compared to Bendigo and Shlykova. He is accused of only billing Medicare $1.1 million, and collecting half that, using fraudulent claims for equipment such as motorized wheelchairs, hospital beds and scooters. The L.A.-based fraudster was convicted in 2008 of conspiracy and healthcare fraud but fled.

Gevork Aidinian was president and owner of American Premier Laboratory in Los Angeles when an arrest warrant was issued in 2009 charging him with grand theft, identity theft, insurance fraud-false wiring, and health benefits fraud. It is alleged that he received more than $2 million in fraudulent Medicare reimbursements for clinical laboratory services.

Zoya Belov is one who didn’t get away. She was only on the list for a month when she was captured in March 2011 at San Francisco International Airport. Belov, a registered nurse in Russia but not in the United States, was implicated in a conspiracy to fraudulently bill Medicare $5.2 million. She pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing.  

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Several Californians among the Most Wanted for Health Fraud (by Christina Jewett, The Bay Citizen)

OIG Most Wanted Fugitives (Office of Inspector General)

Health Care Fraud and Abuse Control Program Report (Office of Inspector General)

Health Care Fraud Prevention and Enforcement Efforts Result in Record-Breaking Recoveries Totaling Nearly $4.1 Billion (U.S. Department of Health & Human Services)

Fight against Health Care Fraud Recovers $4.1B (by Kelly Kennedy, USA Today)

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