A Little Rock doctor admitted Tuesday that he conspired with a massage therapist for seven years to commit health-care fraud by claiming massages were legitimate doctor-ordered physical therapy services.
In return for Dr. Robert Barrow's guilty plea, federal prosecutors intend to ask at sentencing that his 13 remaining health-care fraud and four remaining false-statement charges be dismissed, along with all 13 health-care fraud charges and a single conspiracy charge against Barrow's wife, Dr. Angela Barrow. As operators of Your Doctor's Office, a walk-in clinic at 600 Autumn Road that was sold in late 2014, the couple was jointly indicted in April 2014.
In a plea agreement, Robert Barrow, 62, admitted that he "knowingly or through deliberate ignorance" agreed with the therapist, Billy Marc Young, to commit fraud. It says Barrow "knew there was a high probability that the billing ... was improper but deliberately avoided learning that fact."
The fraudulent billing, through which claims to Medicare and Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield exceeded $2.2 million, took place between Sept. 30, 2005, and July 8, 2012.
The plea deal will require Barrow to pay $702,361.12 in restitution -- the amount the conspiracy actually generated -- less what is paid by Young. In addition to restitution to the insurers, Barrow will be required to pay up to $100,000 to former patients for any out-of-pocket expenses they paid as a result of the massages.
Young, a masseuse who leased an office suite in the Barrows' building, pleaded guilty April 10, 2014, to a charge of making a false statement in connection with a health-care matter and is awaiting sentencing. Prosecutors said the two men conspired to bill insurers for Young's services through the clinic under current procedural technology codes that were associated with physical therapy and split the proceeds.
Robert Barrow admitted the scheme victimized not only the health insurers, but also former patients who believed they were receiving physical therapy and bore out-of-pocket expenses, such as co-payments, according to a news release issued Tuesday by U.S. Attorney Chris Thyer; David Shepard, assistant special agent in charge of the FBI's Little Rock office; and C.J. Porter, special agent in charge of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General.
Barrow was represented at the plea hearing before U.S. District Judge Leon Holmes by Little Rock attorneys Jack Lassiter and Erin Cassinelli. His wife sat in the courtroom gallery with her attorney, Jeff Rosenzweig of Little Rock. Because the couple was scheduled for a jury trial in Holmes' court beginning Nov. 2, Rosenzweig told the judge he would file a motion to postpone the trial, since Angela Barrow will still face the charges if Holmes does not approve the plea bargain at Robert Barrow's sentencing.
The conspiracy charge to which Robert Barrow pleaded guilty is punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000, although federal sentencing guidelines will suggest a penalty range for Barrow based on a pre-sentence investigation that Holmes ordered Tuesday. The Barrows were facing up to 10 years in prison on each of the fraud charges they faced, and Robert Barrow also faced up to five years in prison on the false-statement charges.
Young is scheduled for sentencing Dec. 17 before U.S. District Judge D. Price Marshall Jr. He faces up to five years in prison and restitution, which is mandated by federal law. Prosecutors have agreed to recommend a sentence for Young at the low end of a penalty range that will be determined by federal sentencing guidelines. Prosecutors also have agreed not to seek a fine, while Young has agreed to forfeit his interest in the $311,129.59 in proceeds he received through the crime.
The case was prosecuted by assistant U.S. attorneys Alex Morgan and Shannon Smith. It resulted from a multiyear investigation by the FBI and the Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General.
In a pretrial brief, Morgan said prosecutors wanted to show jurors evidence at trial that the defendants engaged in an identical scheme with another masseuse who leased the same office suite in their building as Young and who "brought in the new masseuse with whom Defendants dealt from 2005 to 2012."
The pleading alleged that Barrow also targeted other health insurers, including QualChoice and United Healthcare, and that he submitted bills for patients that were never seen.
Metro on 10/14/2015
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