The operator of a Los Angeles ambulance service, his wife and a key employee were convicted by a federal jury Monday of bilking more than $5 million from Medicare.
Boris Shpirt, 50, a co-owner of Greybor Medical Transportation, his wife Jenny, 43, who supervised bookkeeping for the company, and Daniel Gonzalez, 29, a onetime supervisor, were found guilty on multiple counts of healthcare fraud.
The Shpirts were also convicted of money laundering and filing false income tax returns after a four-week trial before U.S. District Judge Gary A. Feess.
Boris Shpirt's partner, Gregory Plotkin, 50, pleaded guilty earlier to conspiring to commit healthcare fraud and testified against the trio.
The three defendants and the company were charged with regularly submitting fabricated claims to Medicare showing that patients were "bed-confined" when, in fact, they were ambulatory. The ruse allowed Greybor to claim larger reimbursements from the government insurance program for the elderly. The company also was accused of transporting patients simultaneously to medical facilities and billing Medicare as if each had been transported separately.
Shpirt and Plotkin founded the company in the early 1980s as a van service for medical patients. In 1998, they expanded their operation to offer regular ambulance service. However, Assistant U.S. Atty. Eliot Krieger contended during the trial that the two executives had instructed their staff to designate all patients being transported as bedridden.
Shpirt and Plotkin also ran two other companies, Pride Medical Industries and GABA Medical Industries, that provided medical equipment to Spanish-speaking immigrants who did not want or need the devices, according to the prosecution. Medicare picked up the tab for the items.
An investigation by the federal Department of Health and Human Services revealed that employees of Pride and Gaba would deliver the equipment to Medicare beneficiaries and get them to sign English-language receipts for far more expensive equipment that they never received.
The Shpirts were also convicted of laundering proceeds from Greybor through another company and using that money to pay rent and to build a home in Beverly Hills. During closing arguments last week, Boris Shpirt's lawyer, Joel Levine, contended that his client took full responsibility for any problems with the filing of Medicare claims and insisted that Shpirt's wife and Gonzalez were innocent of any wrongdoing.
Levine said the company's ambulance drivers did not like doing paperwork and often turned in incomplete forms, forcing Shpirt and his associates to fill in the blanks as best they could to satisfy Medicare's bookkeeping requirements. Shpirt, he argued, had no intent to cheat the government. Levine also denounced the government's star witness, Plotkin, as untrustworthy.
Judge Feess set a July 19 sentencing date. All three defendants remain free on bond, although the prosecutor said he may seek to have Boris Shpirt taken into custody as a flight risk because he is facing up to 10 years in prison.