Two Women Admit Roles in Multi-State Home Patient Brokerage Program | USAO-NJ
NEWARK, NJ – A California woman and an Arkansas woman today admitted their roles in a multi-state patient brokerage program in which they paid referral fees from their rehab centers in exchange for referrals from patients, US Attorney Vikas Khanna said.
Lauren B. Philhower, 33, of Los Angeles, Calif., and Anastasia A. Passas, 33, of Bentonville, Arkansas, each pleaded guilty by videoconference before U.S. District Judge Peter G. Sheridan to an information charging them each one count of conspiracy to violate the Travel Act.
Five other people have already pleaded guilty for their role in the scheme. Peter Costas, of Red Bank, New Jersey, pleaded guilty in May 2020 to conspiracy to commit health care fraud; Seth Logan Welsh, of Forest Hill, Maryland, and John C. Devlin, of Baltimore, Maryland, pleaded guilty in September 2020 to the same charge; Kevin M. Dickau, of Georgtown, Texas, pleaded guilty in September 2020 to the same charge; and Dr. Akikur Mohammad, of West Hills, California, pleaded guilty in September 2020 to conspiring to violate the Eliminating Kickbacks in Recovery Act (EKRA).
According to documents filed in the case and statements made in court:
Dickau, Welsh, Devlin and their conspirators owned and operated a marketing company in California. They used the marketing company to help orchestrate a scheme in New Jersey, Maryland, California and other states that involved bribing people addicted to heroin and other drugs into entering at rehab centers so that Welsh, Devlin and their conspirators could generate referral fees from those facilities. Two of those facilities in California that paid that referral fee were operated by Philhower and Passas.
The marketing company run by Dickau, Welsh and Devlin maintained contractual relationships with drug treatment centers across the country, including those run by Philhower and Passas. The marketing company also engaged a national network of recruiters – including Costas in New Jersey – to identify and recruit potential patients, from New Jersey and other states, who were addicted to heroin or other drugs. and who had strong private health insurance.
To convince addicts to travel and enroll in rehab when they otherwise would not have, Costas and other recruiters offered to bribe them – often up to several thousand dollars – with the approval of Dickau, Welsh and Devlin. Once the patients agreed to check into rehab in exchange for the bribe offered, Dickau, Welsh, Devlin and Costas would arrange and pay for the cross-country trip to drug treatment centers by California and other states, together with the owners of the facilities themselves, including Philhower and Passas. Costas would stay in contact with New Jersey patients at the facilities and specifically ask them to stay at the facilities long enough to generate referral payments, and he would relay information to Dickau, Welsh and Devlin about the status of the patients at the facilities. . . Dickau, Welsh and Devlin monitored other patients they negotiated by talking to other recruiters or to the owners and employees of the drug treatment centers themselves.
Philhower and Passas drug treatment facilities had a contract with the marketing company run by Dickau, Welsh and Devlin. Their and other facilities typically paid the marketing company run by Dickau, Welsh and Devlin a fee of $5,000 to $10,000 per patient referred. Dickau, Welsh, Devlin and their conspirators shared this money. Costas and other recruiters received about half that amount for each patient they brokered. Dickau, Welsh, Devlin and their conspirators brokered dozens of patients at drug treatment centers across the country, including those run by Philhower and Passas, and the conspiracy caused millions of dollars in losses to health insurers .
Philhower and Passas each face a potential maximum sentence of five years in prison and a fine of $250,000, which is double the gross gain or loss of the offense. Philhower’s sentencing is scheduled for September 13, 2022 and Passas’s is scheduled for September 14, 2022.
United States Attorney Khanna credited FBI Special Agents, under Acting Special Agent in Charge Michael Messenger in Newark, with the investigation that led to today’s guilty pleas. He also thanked the FBI, under Deputy Director-in-Charge Kristi Koons Johnson in Los Angeles, and the Orange County District Attorney’s Office, California, for their assistance.
The government is represented by Jason S. Gould, head of the Health Care Fraud Unit in Newark.