A South Bay physician whose referrals led to more than $1.7 million in bogus Medicare billing pleaded guilty today to participating in a conspiracy to defraud Medicare by writing prescriptions for unneeded power wheelchairs and other medical equipment.
Charles Okoye, a 52-year-old Carson resident, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud.
Appearing before U.S. District Judge Michael W. Fitzgerald, Okoye admitted he wrote prescriptions for medically unnecessary equipment for patients referred to him through Gardena-based Adelco Medical Distributors Inc.
Between November 2008 and November 2011, Adelco recruited Medicare beneficiaries and took them to see Okoye, who would issue prescriptions, mostly for power wheelchairs, after giving the “patients” a single, cursory examination, according to Okoye’s plea agreement.
Adelco then billed Medicare for providing the wheelchairs, which the beneficiaries did not want and often never used. In return for these referrals, Okoye received illegal kickbacks for every prescription from Adelco’s owner, Adeline Ekwebelem, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Okoye’s referrals led Adelco to submit about $1.7 million in fraudulent claims to Medicare, and Medicare paid Adelco more than $820,000. Okoye also fraudulently billed Medicare more than $50,000 for services he claimed to have provided to “patients” who received the unnecessary prescriptions, prosecutors said.
Ekwebelem, 51, of Hawthorne, is also charged in the case, and is scheduled to stand trial Sept. 9.
The Adelco indictment charges four others, three of whom have previously pleaded guilty. The final defendant is currently a fugitive.
In his plea agreement, Okoye also admitted he engaged in a similar unlawful arrangement with another medical supply company, Esteem Medical Supply in Inglewood.
Okoye faces up to 10 years in federal prison at his sentencing on Dec. 8, prosecutors said.
As part of his guilty plea, Okoye agreed not to dispute the revocation of his medical license by the California Medical Board, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
--City News Service
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