Three South Florida residents are the latest to be convicted in an ongoing crackdown against sober home fraud.
Last week, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida announced that Ali Ahmed, 38, Hector Efrain Alvarez, 49, and Mauren Morel, 45, all of Broward and Palm Beach Counties, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit healthcare fraud and wire fraud. Sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 21, 2020. A fourth defendant, Sebastian Ahmed, pleaded not guilty and is scheduled to go to trial today. (Nov. 25, 2019).
According to court documents, between June 2016 and April 2019, the three submitted false claims for purported substance abuse treatment services at three facilities, Jacob’s Welk, Medi MD, and Arnica Health, all of which were located in Davie, Florida. Together they operated as part of Serenity Living and was affiliated with sober homes known as Serenity Ranch.
More than $21 million in claims were submitted and more than $3.8 million was paid out by various private insurance companies on behalf of beneficiaries.
However, it was alleged that the proceeds were used for their personal benefit, the benefit of others and to further the fraud scheme.
Ali Ahmed was Treasurer of Jacob’s Well, Director of Operations for Medi MD, and co-owner of Jacob’s Well, Medi MD, and Arnica Health. Sebastian Ahmed was the CEO and co-owner of Jacob’s Well, Medi MD, and Arnica Health. Alvarez was Clinical Director of Medi MD and Morel was Clinical Director and co-owner of Jacob’s Well.
In recent years, South Florida has become a hotbed of illegal activity relating to drug and alcohol abuse treatment as an increasing number of people seeking help flock here, sparking the use of the term ‘Florida shuffle” to describe how patients find themselves in a seemingly never-ending cycle of treatment and relapse.
In September, three other South Florida residents were charged for their alleged roles in a health-insurance scheme that netted at least $13 million. Identified as Peter Port, 64, of Boca Raton; Brian Dublynn, 62, of Fort Lauderdale; and Jennifer Sanford, 57, Hollywood, the trio were said to have gotten Safe Haven Recovery Inc., a substance abuse treatment facility in Miami, and several clinical laboratories to bill health insurance companies for services that were either not performed or medically unnecessary. The three were charged as part of a healthcare fraud takedown that charged a total of 30 people with fraudulently billing federal and private health insurers $86 million.
Problems with sober homes has become so pervasive in South Florida, that the Palm Beach County State Attorney’s Office launched a task force to investigate matters relating to deceptive marketing and advertising, fraudulent billing, solicitation of patients and other questionable activity. The State Attorney also convened a Grand Jury to investigate those issues.
Out of those findings grew policy recommendations to the Florida Legislature and the passage of a law that made it illegal for any treatment facility to pay commission, bonuses, rebates, kickbacks, bribes or engage in any split-fee arrangement to induce patient referrals. The law also adds background checks, requires rehab centers to provide proof they can offer the services required and creates enhanced penalties for violations.
In addition to providing many other healthcare law defense and compliance services, The Health Law Offices of Anthony C. Vitale represents individuals and entities such as drug treatment facilities and laboratories accused of fraud by federal and/or state authorities.