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Hospice ex-owner pleads guilty, admits $15M in phony bills

October 12, 2018

GREENVILLE, Miss. (AP) — A former Mississippi hospice owner has pleaded guilty to making fraudulent hospice claims to federal insurers.

Charline Brandon of Cleveland pleaded guilty Wednesday in federal court in Greenville to one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud.

Brandon acknowledged submitting nearly $12 million in fraudulent claims to Medicare and nearly $3 million to Medicaid while she was running Haven Hospice, North Haven Hospice, Lion Hospice and North Lion Hospice. A 2017 indictment alleged she was engaged in fraud for nearly a decade.

Brandon faces up to 10 years in a prison and $250,000 in fines. The government also wants Brandon to forfeit illegal gains and make restitution. U.S. District Judge Debra Brown set sentencing for Jan. 29.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has led a multiyear state-federal investigation into fraud in Mississippi called Hospice Storm. Assistant U.S. Attorney Clay Dabbs has called hospice fraud a “runaway problem” in Mississippi, and at least eight people have been convicted since 2014.

One sign of hospice fraud is the share of patients that don’t die while under hospice care but are instead discharged. The U.S. Center for Medicaid and Medicaid Services found that in 2014, Mississippi led the nation in live discharges, with 20.4 percent of patients outliving hospice care. That compared with a national rate of 11 percent. Mississippi’s share fell in 2015, to 17.9 percent, but still ranked third among the states.

Brandon’s former marketing director, Roesha Sanders of Shelby, pleaded guilty earlier this year to making a false statement to Medicare. She was sentenced to 3 years’ probation and ordered to pay $23,825 in restitution.

Dr. Scott Nelson, Wendell Brandon and Annette Lofton remain under indictment in the case. Also cited as conspirators are three others convicted earlier — former Grenada hospice owner Sandra Livingston and her patient recruiter Lara Lynn Thompson, plus former Cleveland hospice owner Andre Kirkland.

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