Mother, son plead guilty

Published 4:40 pm Thursday, November 14, 2013

GREENVILLE – A mother and son, who operated a medical transport company with long ties to Gates County, each face up to 20 years in prison and restitution as high as $2.5 million after entering guilty pleas here Thursday on charges of conspiracy to commit healthcare and wire fraud.

According to United States Attorney Thomas G. Walker, Phyllis Stallings Harrell and her son, Paul Lynn Trueblood, both entered guilty pleas to Count 1 of the Second Superseding Indictment which charged them with Conspiracy to Commit Health Care Fraud and Wire Fraud, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1349.

The pleas were entered before United States District Judge Terrence W. Boyle.

Harrell and Trueblood list their address as Belvidere. Harrell owns Harrell Medical Transport, based in Hobbsville (Gates County), and operates the business with her son.

In December, the mother and son were formally indicted on 68 counts, including conspiracy to commit health care and wire fraud, health care fraud, wire fraud, making false statements relating to health care matters, conducting transactions in criminally derived property, and making material false statements.

During Thursday’s court session, Judge Boyle entered a Preliminary Order of Forfeiture with respect to the assets linked to the fraud.

At sentencing, which has been tentatively scheduled for the court’s Feb. 17, 2014 term, Harrell and Trueblood each face up to 20 years in prison, three years of supervised release, and up to a $250,000 fine. They will also be ordered to make restitution to Medicare, Medicaid, and private insurers who lost money due to the fraud. While the exact amount of restitution has yet to be determined, during court the government noted that the loss in the case could amount to as much as $2.5 million.

Count 1 of the Second Superseding Indictment alleges that between January of 2004 and December of 2009, Harrell and Trueblood conspired to defraud Medicare, Medicaid, and private insurers in connection with various billings for alleged non-emergency ambulance transportation services in the area of Elizabeth City. The indictment alleges that Harrell billed Medicare and Medicaid through Harrell Medical Transport.

The indictment further alleges that Trueblood operated a wheelchair van transportation company that transported Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries to routine medical appointments on a weekly basis. The indictment alleges that although patients were transported in wheelchair vans, Harrell and Trueblood billed Medicare and Medicaid through Harrell Medical Transport as though the trips had occurred in an ambulance. Medicare and Medicaid do not pay wheelchair van providers for wheelchair van transportation.

The indictment alleges that Harrell and Trueblood fabricated and caused to be fabricated information in medical records to make it appear as though the patients had traveled by ambulance. The indictment also alleges that Harrell and Trueblood caused employees of Harrell Medical Transport to omit material information in medical records concerning the ability of patients to walk and ride in wheelchairs, which affects whether Medicare and Medicaid will pay for ambulance transportation.

During the investigation of the case, the United States Attorney’s Office, with the assistance of the United States Department of Health and Human Services, the North Carolina Attorney General’s Office – Medicaid Investigations Division, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, seized several hundred thousand dollars in assets held by Harrell and Trueblood. Seized assets included various ambulances and other vehicles, as well as the contents of various bank and investment accounts. It was those assets on which Judge Boyle issued the Preliminary Order of Forfeiture.

The investigation of this case was conducted by the United States Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General, the North Carolina Department of Justice’s Medicaid Investigations Unit, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Assistant United States Attorney William M. Gilmore is the assigned prosecutor on the case from the Economic Crimes Division of the United States Attorney’s Office.