Mother, son receive prison terms

Published 12:03 pm Sunday, May 18, 2014

RALEIGH – For their respective roles in admitting they defrauded Medicare, Medicaid, and private insurers in excess of $3 million, a mother and son who operated a medical transport company with long ties to Gates County will spend time behind bars.

On Thursday in Federal Court in Raleigh, United States District Judge Terrence W. Boyle sentenced Phyllis Stallings Harrell and her son, Paul Lynn Trueblood, to prison terms (72 months for Harrell, and 53 months for Trueblood).

According to United States Attorney Thomas G. Walker, Judge Boyle was also ordered Harrell to pay restitution in the amount of $1,598,356.91. Trueblood’s share of the restitution totaled $1,516,654.21. Each will also face three years of supervised probation upon their release from prison.

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. They pled guilty to their crimes in December of last year after being indicted one year earlier 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.

“This health care provider and her son abused the trust of taxpayers by billing the government for more than $1.5 million ambulance services that they didn’t perform,” stated Walker. “This case underscores for health care providers that if you commit Medicare and Medicaid fraud, you should expect a lengthy stay in federal prison.”

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, which was charges for conspiracy to commit healthcare fraud and wire fraud, alleged at that time 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.

It was also alleged in the indictment 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.

“Ambulance transportation companies that make fraudulent claims by providing unnecessary services or misrepresenting to Medicare and Medicaid about the services they provide will instead have to answer to the government for their misdeeds,” said Derrick L. Jackson, Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General, Atlanta Region.

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.

During court on Thursday, Judge Boyle ordered forfeiture with respect to these assets and other assets contained in the superseding indictment.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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