A US-based Ghanaian cardiovascular surgeon, Dr. Moses deGraft-Johnson, has pleaded guilty to several counts of healthcare fraud and other related charges stemming from billing the federal government and other health insurance companies for surgeries he never performed on patients.
According to the Tallahassee Democrat, deGraft-Johnson, who was indicted on February 4, pleaded guilty to 56 counts of health-care fraud, conspiracy to commit fraud and aggravated identity theft on Friday, December 18.
Prosecutors say the owner of the now-defunct Heart and Vascular Institute of North Florida allegedly sent out bills to the tune of at least $29 million to Capital Health Plan, Medicare and other insurance companies for surgeries he never performed at his health facility. deGraft-Johnson allegedly used those funds to finance a lavish lifestyle.
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Describing his modus operandi, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said the surgeon targeted unsuspecting victims at churches, nursing homes and also at least a hospital, and then went ahead to perform “invasive” and “unnecessary” procedures on a majority of them. This left some of his patients, who were mostly from underserved communities, confused about the authenticity of their personal medical records and the kind of treatment they actually required, the Tallahassee Democrat reported. The federal prosecutors on the case said they’ll continue scrutinizing deGraft-Johnson’s scheme so patients can have a better understanding of their conditions and receive the right treatment.
“As part of his plea, deGraft-Johnson acknowledged engaging in a wide-ranging and consistent pattern of performing two invasive diagnostic angiography procedures – one on each leg – on hundreds of his patients, whether medically indicated or not.
“When his patients returned for follow-up office visits, deGraft-Johnson submitted fraudulent claims to their insurance companies stating he performed athrectomies during the appointments. Using this scheme, deGraft-Johnson admits he falsely claimed to have performed over 3,000 of these surgical procedures to clear blockages in arteries in as many as 845 of his patients’ legs,” a statement from the Department of Justice said.
The department also said they’re “aggressively pursuing” the surgeon’s forfeitable assets both in the United States and outside the country including luxury vehicles, jewelry, houses in Manhattan, Southampton, New York, Miami and Houston, as well as over $1 million in cash.
“It is critically important that we do everything within the scope of our authority to help the patients preyed upon by this criminal doctor, in order to seek recovery of the $29-million-plus that he fraudulently received and to prevent similar schemes from happening in the future — both by deterring the would-be perpetrators and by educating those they would exploit,” U.S. Attorney Larry Keefe said in a statement.
The accused, who was born in Ghana but moved to the United States with his family as a child, is famously known for treating and saving the life of rapper 50 Cent after he was shot multiple times in Queens in 2000, the Tallahassee Democrat reported. He also owned multiple businesses in the US and Africa and aspired to run for president in his native Ghana. deGraft-Johnson worked as an independent doctor for the Capital Regional Medical Center after joining in 2014 and until before he was indicted.
The 46-year-old is set to be sentenced on April 8, 2021, at the United States District Court in Tallahassee. He faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison for each of the conspiracy and health care fraud charges and a mandatory 2-year sentence for the aggravated identity theft charge. He also faces a slew of fines amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“Instead of caring for his patients, this defendant targeted vulnerable members of our community, subjected them to unnecessary surgical procedures, and falsified documents so he could line his pockets with millions of taxpayer dollars. Fraud, like this, reduces the availability of critical resources and contributes to the rising cost of healthcare for all,” Rachel L. Rojas, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Jacksonville Division, said in the statement.