Nine doctors – including a Long Island cardiologist – were arrested Monday in connection with multimillion-dollar Medicaid fraud scheme that targeted low-income New Yorkers by promising sneakers in exchange for unnecessary medical tests, Brooklyn prosecutors said.
In total, 23 people were indicted in the ring that authorities said scammed more than $7 million of government aid between October 2012 and September 2014.
“This was all done under the guise of medical treatment, just to defraud Medicaid and Medicare,” DA Kenneth Thompson said. “This was a Medicaid mill.”
Authorities said recruiters would wait outside homeless shelters and soup kitchens in New York City asking people if they wanted a free pair of shoes. They would then board vans to clinics in Brooklyn and the Bronx, where they would see podiatrists or psychologists for “cursory” examinations. Thompson said hidden-camera video from investigators shows the recruiters telling people they needed to bring their Medicaid cards to the visits. After hours of tests, the people would be sent away with a pair of shoes. Thompson said the clinics – many of which were established for the scheme – looked like regular doctors’ offices, but at least one had a shoe warehouse in the basement.
“At the heart of this health care fraud scheme was the exploitation of poor people,” Thompson said Tuesday. “These people were used as pawns because they wanted footwear.”
Brooklyn prosecutors began investigating in 2012 when a woman reported that she was approached on the street and taken to a Brooklyn healthcare clinic, where she was promised a free pair of sneakers if she would see a podiatrist and take a knee brace. The woman didn’t need the brace but was told she had to take it in order to receive the sneakers, Thompson said. Others had been prescribed orthotics and some were sent for further medical tests, including pain-management assessments and cardiograms, prosecutors said.
Thompson said Eric Vainer, 43, of Manhattan, and his mother, Polina Vainer, of Staten Island, headed the operation. Doctors paid Vainer for each patient he sent to them, while the medical professionals split the insurance payments with him. Eric Vainer was arrested Tuesday morning while vacationing in Florida. His mother was also taken into custody on Tuesday, authorities said.
The doctors arrested were identified by authorities as: Henry Sardar of Brooklyn, David Glass of Manhattan, Avia Jackson of Queens, Neeman Ghuman of Brooklyn, Herbert Meadow of Manhattan, Joseph Grossman of Briarcliffe Manor, Abdul Malik of Deer Park. Additionally, Eric Vanier, 43, of Manhattan; Polina Vainer, 66, of Staten Island; Igor Marmulevskiy, 30, of Manhattan; and Susan Nutakor-Doh, 48, Taesoo Kim, 28, and Hoda Abdelaziz, 48, — all of Queens—along with Brooklyn residents Melissa Gonzalez, 31, Shawn Mayo, 38, Kirill Shakhov, 26, Marina Vargas, 49, Yelena Korsunskaya, 60, and Bernard Rorie, 59, and Matthew Jordan, 33, of Putnam Valley; and Renee Denobrega, 32, of Bushkill, Pennsylvania, were also charged.
A 199-count indictment charges the nearly two dozen defendants with enterprise corruption, money laundering, health care fraud and other charges.