The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals recently upheld convictions for a South Florida patient recruiter for conspiring to defraud the United States and receiving illegal kickbacks for referring patients to a Medicare provider.
The case involved Yamilet Diaz who was accused of sending Medicare beneficiaries to a home health agency in exchange for $2,000 per patient. It was alleged that between October 2012 and June 2013, Diaz received kickbacks in return for referring Medicare beneficiaries to Good Friends Services Inc., a now-defunct home health agency in Hialeah Gardens, according to DOJ. The evidence at the trial established that Diaz personally received $306,800.
Diaz was convicted of one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States and to receive healthcare kickbacks and four counts of receiving health care kickbacks. In May 2019, Diaz was sentenced to 87 months in prison, followed by 36 months of supervised release. Her sentence also was enhanced because the judge found that she had committed perjury by testifying in her own defense.
During her trial, several witnesses, including cooperating witnesses who had worked with Diaz, testified against her.
Diaz appealed to the Eleventh Circuit, arguing that the lower court was wrong in allowing evidence to be presented about her prior involvement with other home health agencies that had been implicated in a patient-referral scheme because it was unfairly prejudicial, lacked basis to prove intent, and was not inextricably intertwined with the charged conduct.
The government argued that the district court did not err because the evidence was intrinsic to the charged conduct, as well as admissible to prove intent under Rule 404(b). That rule states that evidence of a person’s character or character trait is not admissible to prove that on a particular occasion the person acted in accordance with the character or trait.
For white-collar defense practitioners, the evidence produced at trial, as well as the result, is probably not surprising. The government built its case on cooperating witnesses. In these types of cases, the obvious response from the defense is that the government’s witnesses are lying to avoid more prison time. Therefore, to overcome the government’s evidence, it is vital to develop a viable defense as soon as possible – preferably before the defendant is arrested.
One way of doing so is to hire an attorney while the case is still under investigation. A skilled healthcare attorney may conduct a defense investigation, develop defenses, and advise the client. Depending on the attorney’s findings, the lawyer may confer with the government in exchange for a reduced sentence, or even a dismissal. Of course, every defendant has the right to try their case and should do so when necessary.
Thus, if a pre-indictment investigation does not result in a favorable outcome, then at least the defense is a few steps ahead in its preparation for trial.
The Health Law Offices of Anthony C. Vitale, P.A. boast a team of highly skilled attorneys and consultants that are here to help you before you become the focus of an investigation, and will aggressively defend you should you become the target of one. Give us a call at 305-358-4500 or email [email protected].