Double jeopardy challenge rejected for therapists convicted of Medicare fraud
In US v Crabtree a therapist at a health care clinic in Miami was convicted along with her two therapist codefendants of conspiracy to commit health care fraud in violation of 18 U.S.C. 1349. In this appeal they raised several issues, including a constitutional challenge under the double jeopardy clause. The underlying facts involved the operation of a mental health centers in Florida and North Carolina called the Health Care Solutions Network (HCSN) which billed Medicare for over $63 million in fraudulent claims. Crabtree and two of the co-defendants were former employees of HCSN who worked therapists.
HCSN was set up as a “partial hospitalization program” (PHP) that was purportedly designed to provide intensive psychiatric therapy to patients with “serious and acutely symptomatic mental illnesses.” These programs serve as a bridge between restrictive in patient care (psychiatric hospitalization) and routine outpatient care.
A PHP complying with federal and state law may seek Medicare reimbursement for its services. However, HCSN was not following Medicare standards and practices. From intake to discharge HCSN organized its business around Medicare fraud by editing intake information, fabricating treatment plans, and falsifying therapy and treatment notes to support Medicare claims. Therapist fabricated therapy notes for absent patients, falsified details from therapy sessions, and cloned notes by copying and pasting therapy notes from one patient’s file to another’s.
At the conclusion of the first trial the jury acquitted Crabtree and her two codefendant therapists of the false statement counts but it failed to reach a verdict on the conspiracy counts. At the first trial the court gave an instruction for Pinkerton liability with the false statement instruction. Under the Pinkerton instruction if the jury found the defendant guilty of participating in conspiracy it could find the defendant guilty of the substantive false statement crime even though the defendant did not personally participate in the false statement crime. The defendants were retried and convicted of the conspiracy count at the second trial.