Owner of hospice chain is convicted of fraud for unnecessarily diagnosing patients with incurable conditions to receive kickbacks.
A federal jury in McAllen, Texas, sentenced Rodney Mesquias, 48, of San Antonio, Texas, a corporate executive, to two decades in prison for falsely telling thousands of patients with long-term incurable diseases, such as Alzheimers and dementia, they had less than six months to live so he could receive a kickback for enrolling them in hospice. U.S. District Court Judge Rolanda Olvera, nominated by former president Barack Obama, ordered Mesquias to serve time and pay $120 million in restitution.
From 2009 to 2018, Mesquias carried out his scheme as owner/operator of Merida Group, an expansive, statewide health care business. Mesquias and his co-conspirator Henry McInnis, 48, were both convicted of one count each of conspiracy to commit health care fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering and conspiracy to obstruct justice as well as six counts of health care fraud.
“Mesquias funded his lavish lifestyle by exploiting patients with long-term, incurable diseases by enrolling them in expensive but unnecessary hospice services,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian C. Rabbitt of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “This significant sentence represents the department’s continued commitment to pursue those who orchestrate and commit healthcare fraud schemes.”
Mesquias and McInnis not only gained financially from their scheme, but they caused significant trauma to the patients and families affected by the false information they were given.
“Financial healthcare fraud is abhorrent enough, but to fraudulently diagnose patients with dementia or Alzheimer’s is the pinnacle of medical cruelness to both the patient and their family,” said U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Patrick of the Southern District of Texas. “They falsely gave patients life ending diagnosis and they will pay the price with years behinds bars.”
“Families seek to give comfort and support to their ailing loved ones when all other medical options are gone,” added Special Agent in Charge Christopher Combs of the FBI’s San Antonio Division. “It is unconscionable and evil to prey upon the most vulnerable in our community to commit fraud against government-funded programs. The FBI is committed to protecting our communities from those who may not have the strength to protect themselves.”
What’s more, telling patients they were suffering from long-term irreversible conditions that could only be managed with hospice services prevented them from having access to the legitimate care they needed.
“Mesquias’ scheme included paying kickbacks to physicians and fraudulently enrolling vulnerable beneficiaries in hospice care that prevented them from accessing curative care – all done to steal millions of dollars from Medicare to fund lavish personal spending,” explained Special Agent in Charge Miranda L. Bennett of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General’s (HHS-OIG) Dallas Region.
Mesquias terminated any employees who refused to participate in the scandal. He often directed them not to “[expletive] with his patients or [expletive] with his money,” according to former staff. In other words, he explicitly directed them not to intervene and discharge patients from services provided by the company. Court documents also revealed the co-conspirators regularly discussed the fact that keeping patients in hospice care was a big money-maker.