Insurance Fraud NEWS
Jail house hustle — Texan scams Medicaid from cell
May 16, 2019, Midlothian, TX
Alexis Norman did not let prison get in the way of a good scam.
The Midlothian woman was sentenced in 2016 to nearly nine years in federal prison for stealing the identities of counselors to bill the government millions for psychotherapy sessions with children that never happened.
But even before she started serving her sentence, Norman, 48, went back to work with the exact same Medicaid billing scam, federal authorities said.
While behind bars in Fort Worth for the first fraud, Norman used the prison email and phone systems, in-person visits, and secret codes to pass on information to a friend and accomplice for the second fraud, court records say.
She was sentenced Thursday to 30 years in federal prison. It's a lengthy sentence for a white-collar financial scheme. Her attorney suggested it could also be considered cruel and unusual. But the judge and prosecutor saw it another way.
"Ms. Norman is a brazen fraudster," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Douglas Brasher.
"She put herself in this position. No one else did," said U.S. District Judge Jane Boyle, who acknowledged that the case was unusual.
Her letters from behind bars while serving time for the first crime contained a series of tasks, such as how much money in Medicaid claims to submit.
The friend, Karen Jones, would wear red when visiting her to indicate the claims were paid. Norman also slipped notes to Jones during her weekly prison visits, sometimes from her shoe, with details about providers and Medicaid beneficiaries, court records say.
"It almost sounds like a bad movie," Brasher told the judge.
Norman also helped two other business owners with separate fraudulent billing schemes. One was similar to her own Medicaid billing scam. The other involved a government program that provides meals to children in low-income areas during summers, court records show.
Norman pleaded guilty last year to one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud and four counts of health care fraud. As part of the plea deal, prosecutors agreed not to charge her with fraud related to the school meal program.
But it hardly mattered. Due to all of the sentencing enhancements she received, Norman will be very old when she walks out of prison. The former daycare provider told Boyle she didn't want to die there.
She appealed for a second chance at life - to give herself the opportunity to "rise from the failure I have become."
'Outside the norm'
Norman, who has a son, also told Boyle on Thursday that she was "filled with remorse" and had found God. She apologized to her family and to Boyle for lying during her previous sentencing hearing.
"My family is doing this time with me," she said.
Norman's sentence fell within the sentencing guidelines for her crime after various enhancements were added up -- for such things as abusing a position of trust, obstruction of justice for lying during the first sentencing hearing, and relocating the scheme to avoid detection.
But her lawyer, Mark Watson, asked Boyle to deviate from the guidelines, which are advisory, and give his client a lower sentence. He said the sentence his client faced was tantamount to what someone would receive for committing violent crimes.
"That truly is draconian," Watson said. "It's way outside the norm."
Norman and Jones earned about $424,000 from the fake claims, officials said. Boyle ordered Norman to pay it back through restitution payments.
Boyle noted Thursday that Norman was committing the same crimes when Norman stood before her three years earlier, claiming to have accepted responsibility for her actions.
"I just can't believe it," Boyle said.
Norman recruited Jones in February 2015, after Norman was indicted for the first time.
"Norman told Jones she needed money for attorney's fees," a search warrant application said.
Jones at the time owned a personal aid services company that was a provider in the Medicaid program. Norman was never licensed as a psychotherapist or any sort of mental health professional.
Jones created Janus Children Services Inc. for Norman and opened a bank account for her in that name, court records say. Janus leased office space in Tyler but had no employees or services.
Jones siphoned money from the Janus account to give to Norman in small monthly amounts for nearly a year. About once a month between April 2015 and February 2016, Jones would withdraw money from the account, always less than $9,500, and meet Norman for a meal at a restaurant.
After each meal, Jones would leave behind a gift bag containing the cash from the Janus account, prosecutors said.
After Norman went to prison in April 2016, Jones helped her form another fake company -- Therapeutic Outreach Services Inc., according to court records. That company also had no employees or services but leased space in Waco that wasn't used.
Like the first scheme, Norman and Jones used stolen identities of licensed counselors and more than 150 Medicaid recipients, most of them children, to submit false claims to Medicaid. The two obtained Medicaid provider numbers from licensed professionals who responded to their job advertisements on Craigslist. The counsellors didn't know their information was being used in the crimes.
Norman also sent letters to Jones from prison, telling her to get money to Norman's husband by transferring it from Therapeutic to a business he controlled, court records said.
Jones pleaded guilty for her part in the crimes and was sentenced earlier this year to 30 months in prison.
Norman used court records from her first fraud case, including some provided by the government, to orchestrate the second scheme, according to a federal agent on the case.
Norman's first scheme bilked Medicaid out of more than $2 million in false claims and used the names of more than 500 patients, mostly children, prosecutors said.
She shouldn't have had access to the court information while in prison, authorities said. Her attorneys were supposed to keep it. But Norman had her husband pick up the paperwork from the lawyers and give it to her father, according to court records.
"I need a copy of everything in the loss binder," Norman said in a November 2016 email to her father.
An agent with the U.S. Health and Human Services inspector general's office discovered evidence of the second fraud about a week before Norman's first sentencing when her attorneys met with federal prosecutors to discuss a dispute over alleged financial losses, court records said.
The agent found names of counselors Norman provided that she didn't previously know about.
"It thus appeared to me that Norman was trying to claim credit for supposedly legitimate services that were provided by counselors who were unknown to the government and who were not included in its loss calculation," said the agent, Tiffany Smith.
That was after having already ruined several professional careers, prosecutors said.
During the first sentencing in April 2016, Boyle read aloud a letter from a counselor who was a victim of Norman's scheme.
"I was appalled and scared, because such an abhorrent fraud could not only cost me the ability to bill insurance entirely, but also sully my reputation for association in a massive case of fraud," the counselor wrote.
Boyle told Norman at the time that she wished she'd heard Norman utter something "earnest or in good faith."
"I didn't hear remorse, and I haven't really seen it here today," Boyle said.
Source: The Dallas Morning News