Attorney General Pam Bondi’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations and the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office today announced the arrests of two Seminole County women for allegedly defrauding the Medicaid program out of more than $4 million. Maria Navarro, 44, owner of Angels Creative Children Therapy, and office manager Judith Benech, 37, allegedly billed Medicaid for behavioral therapy services for disabled children that the defendants never provided.
“Fraudulent billing is one of the most common forms of Medicaid fraud, and we will not allow unscrupulous individuals to defraud the Medicaid program,” said Attorney General Bondi. “Using disabled children to fraudulently bill Medicaid is despicable, but thanks to the collaborative efforts of my Medicaid Fraud Control Unit and our local and federal partners, this scheme has been stopped and those responsible will be held accountable.”
The Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit began investigating Benech and Navarro after receiving information from the parent of a child Medicaid recipient, who noticed an unusually high amount of Medicaid billing on their explanation of benefits. According to the investigation, the defendants billed eight hours a day for services supposedly provided to a school that is not open long enough for such billing. A review of billing records revealed that Angels Creative Children Therapy allegedly inflated the Medicaid invoices to reflect eight hours of one-to-one therapy per child every day when the children rarely, if ever, received such therapy. Not only did Angels Creative Children Therapy allegedly fail to provide vital therapy to the children, but also significantly over billed for the services not provided, drawing millions from Medicaid resources.
Benech and Navarro each face one count of Medicaid provider fraud and one count of organized scheme to defraud, both first-degree felonies. If convicted, Benech and Navarro face up to 30 years in prison and more than $59,000 in fines and restitution. The State Attorney’s Office for the Ninth Judicial Circuit will prosecute the case. Attorney General Bondi’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations investigated the case.
The Florida Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit investigates and prosecutes providers that intentionally defraud the state’s Medicaid program through fraudulent billing practices. Medicaid fraud essentially steals from Florida’s taxpayers. From Jan. 2011 to the present, Attorney General Bondi’s MFCU has obtained more than $500 million in settlements and judgments. Additionally, the MFCU investigates allegations of patient abuse, neglect, and exploitation in facilities receiving payments under the Medicaid program.