PROVIDENCE — The operator of a chain of addiction treatment clinics, which applied for a medical office in New Bedford last year, is charged in federal court with millions of dollars of health care fraud, aggravated identity theft, money laundering and obstruction, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Rhode Island. In addition, the treatment center and its former supervisory counselor were charged with health care fraud.
Michael Brier, 60, of Newton, Mass.; Mi Ok Bruining, 62, of Warwick, RI; and Recovery Connections Centers of America Inc. (RCCA) are charged by criminal complaint with health care fraud, Rhode Island U.S. Attorney Zachary A. Cunha announced Thursday. Michael Brier was also charged in the complaint with aggravated identity theft, money laundering and obstruction, Cunha said.
Recovery Connections Centers of America came before New Bedford’s Zoning Board of Appeals last year, planning to open a suboxone office on Union Street. Both the City Council and Mayor Jon Mitchell had spoken in opposition to the proposal, which the ZBA ultimately denied on a 5-0 vote in November.
At that time, RCCA’s lawyer, Benjamin Fierro, intimated that if New Bedford did not allow his client to open, the company could file suit, citing the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Recovery Connection Centers of America lists numerous locations around the South Coast, including a facility on Faunce Corner Mall Road in Dartmouth.
Cunha’s office said RCCA, Brier and Bruining allegedly shortchanged Rhode Island and Massachusetts substance abuse disorder patients out of counseling and treatment services, while defrauding Medicare, Medicaid, and other health insurers out of millions of dollars.
The fraud scheme was “particularly pernicious,” Cunha said, because not only was it designed to “enrich these defendants with federal and private health care dollars they did not earn, but that in the process it cheated a vulnerable population of recovery patients out of the full, genuine support and treatment that they need to have a chance at recovery.”
According to the charging documents, Brier, Bruining and RCCA operated a chain of addiction treatment centers but failed to provide the patients with the required counseling sessions and treatment, while simultaneously billing Medicare, Medicaid and other health care payers for 45-minute counseling sessions on a routine basis, even though the sessions were not more than 15 minutes (often only 5-10 minutes or less). At times, so many counseling sessions were billed at this level that the total amount of time would be impossible for the available therapist to have provided in any 24-hour period, Cunha’s office noted.
Brier and RCCA are also alleged to have caused a fraudulent application to be submitted to Medicare which, among other things, misrepresented and concealed the role that Brier was playing in the business and failed to disclose Brier’s 2013 criminal conviction for federal tax crimes, which was relevant to Medicare’s consideration of the application, Cunha’s office said.
“Today’s arrests serve as a strong reminder that we will not tolerate fraud schemes that target our federal health care programs,” said Special Agent in Charge Phillip M. Coyne of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General.
“Our agency’s mission is to protect the well-being of the public and the integrity of the federal health care system,” Coyne added. “We will hold accountable those who seek to exploit the opioid epidemic for personal gain.”
The investigation and charges also involved the FBI and other federal offices.
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“Today, we arrested and charged Michael Brier, Mi Ok Bruining, and Recovery Connections Centers of America, for a wide-ranging scheme in which they are accused of abusing our health care system, cheating taxpayers, and leveraging the opioid crisis to take advantage of those struggling with substance abuse so the company could rake in millions,” said Joseph R. Bonavolonta, special agent in charge of the FBI Boston Division.
“The allegations set forth in this case represent one of the most brazen and egregious examples of health care fraud the FBI has seen here in Rhode Island in recent history,” he said. “And make no mistake, it is not a victimless crime.”
Bonavolonta added that when the integrity of our federal health care programs is undermined, “we all pay the price through the cost of higher insurance premiums, greater out-of-pocket expenses, and co-pays, and even reduced or lost benefits.”
The complaint also alleges that Brier purported to practice medicine and wrote fraudulent prescriptions using the names and prescriber information, including Drug Enforcement Administration numbers, of doctors without their permission.
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Brier is also alleged to have falsified a document in a matter within the jurisdiction of an agency of the United States by causing the medical director to sign a false and back-dated document.
The complaint alleges that defendants caused millions of dollars in fraudulent billings to be submitted to Medicare and millions more in fraudulent billings to other health care payors.
The government is also seeking to forfeit 13 bank accounts, two buildings, and two vehicles allegedly realized by the defendants as a result of the alleged criminal conduct.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Sara Miron Bloom and Kevin Love Hubbard.
The matter was investigated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, with assistance from the IRS, Customs and Border Protection, and the Rhode Island Office of the Attorney General, Cunha said.
Massachusetts DPH, Bureau of Substance Addiction Service is working to assure continuity of care for RCCA patients, Cunha’s office noted. Massachusetts patients in need of a new or immediate bridge prescription should call 617-414-4175; those in need of behavioral health referrals for physicians, counselors, or other services should call 800-327-5050 or use helplinema.org. Rhode Island patients should call (401) 606-5454; for behavioral health referrals for physicians, counselors, or clinic information, call (410) 414-LINK.
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