Wednesday, February 23, 2011

USA Africa Dialogue Series - Nigerians Arrested In Los Angeles Over Medicare Fraud

United States Attorney's Office
Central District of California

February 17, 2011


LOS ANGELES – As part of a nationwide crackdown on Medicare fraud, six local defendants were arrested today on charges of submitting fraudulent claims to Medicare, mostly for electric wheelchairs that were never delivered.

DOJ SealThree indictments charging six defendants were unsealed today in United States District Court in Los Angeles. The local charges are among cases filed in nine cities across the United States that charge a total of 111 defendants, who cumulatively are accused of being involved in nearly a quarter billion dollars worth of false billings submitted to Medicare.

The Southland defendants arrested today are:

Camillus Ehigie, 50, of Woodland Hills;

Evans Oniha, 48, of Rancho Palos Verdes, who self-surrendered this morning;

Charles Achike Agbu, 56, of Carson;

Obageli Brooke Agbu, who is Charles Agbu's daughter, 24, of Carson;

Joseph Ofoegbu, 58, Gardena; and

Sarah Hua, 64, of Monterey Par, who self-surrender this morning.

The six defendants are expected to be arraigned on the health care fraud charges this afternoon in federal court in downtown Los Angeles, with the exception of Ehigie who is being treated for an undisclosed medical condition.

Over the course of nine years, Camillus Ehige and Evans Oniha allegedly submitted more than $16 million in fraudulent claims to Medicare for durable medical equipment and in-home nursing services that typically were not provided to Medicare beneficiaries.

Ehige and Oniha were the owner/operators of Caravan Medical Supplies in Culver City and Prosperity Home Health Services in Lawndale. Ehige owned and operated Osbed Medical Supply in Woodland Hills. Ehige and Oniha were charged with conspiracy to commit health care fraud and several substantive counts of health care fraud for billing the Medicare program for durable medical equipment and home health services that were not medically necessary and, in many instances, not even provided. Ehige and Oniha allegedly paid "marketers" for access to Medicare beneficiary information or to have Medicare beneficiaries obtain fraudulent prescriptions for equipment or services. Ehigie and Oniha were also charged with making a false statement in a health care matter, and Ehigie was charged with obstructing an investigation into a healthcare offense for instructing a co-conspirator to lie to law enforcement agents about the scheme run out of Caravan, Osbed, and Prosperity.

In the second case, Charles Achike Agbu and his daughter, Obageli Brooke Agbu, were charged with conspiracy to commit health care fraud and several counts of health care fraud for submitting fraudulent claims for durable medical equipment through their Carson companies. Charles Agbu owned and operated Bonfee, Inc. and Obageli owned and operated Ibon, Inc. The indictment alleges that the Agbus billed Medicare for durable medical equipment, such as electric wheelchairs and orthotics, that was not needed, wanted, or even delivered to the Medicare beneficiaries for whom the bills were submitted. As part of the scheme, the Agbus allegedly obtained prescriptions from doctors for the medically unnecessary equipment and then used those prescriptions, along with the Medicare beneficiary information, to submit fraudulent claims to the Medicare program. Bonfee and Ibon allegedly submitted to Medicare a total of approximately $12 million in fraudulent bills for durable medical equipment.

Joseph Ofoegbu, the owner and operator of Iyke Associates in Torrance, and Sarah Hua, a marketer who procured beneficiaries for Ofoegbu, were charged with three counts of health care fraud for submitting fraudulent claims for reimbursement for motorized wheelchairs. The indictment alleges that Ofoegbu used marketers, including Hua, to recruit beneficiaries who were then seen by physicians who prescribed medically unnecessary durable medical equipment. The prescriptions were sent to Iyke Associates, which fraudulently billed Medicare using those prescriptions. According to the indictment, the beneficiaries either did not receive the equipment or they received less expensive equipment than the items Iyke billed to Medicare. Iyke billed a total of approximately $1.5 million in claims for DME it purported to provide to Medicare beneficiaries.

In announcing the nationwide crackdown on Medicare fraud today, Attorney General Eric Holder said: "With this takedown, we have identified and shut down large-scale fraud schemes operating throughout the country. We have safeguarded precious taxpayer dollars. And we have helped to protect our nation's most essential health care programs, Medicare and Medicaid. As today's arrests prove, we are waging an aggressive fight against health care fraud."

The Medicare Fraud Strike Force operations are part of the Health Care Fraud Prevention & Enforcement Action Team (HEAT), a joint initiative announced in May 2009 between the Department of Justice and the Department of Health and Human Services to focus their efforts to prevent and deter fraud and enforce current anti-fraud laws around the country.

"Today's actions show that we will not tolerate criminals who pay kickbacks for referrals of Medicare business or who will bill for services that were medically unnecessary," said Glenn R. Ferry, the Los Angeles Region's Special Agent in Charge for the Office of Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services. "These actions are part of a coordinated, nationwide sweep in our continuing battle against greedy criminals who profit from exploiting federal health care programs."

Tony Sidley, Senior Special Agent in Charge for the California Department of Justice, stated: "The California Attorney General's Office is committed to fight fraud against the state Medi-Cal program. CAL DOJ has supported the HEAT initiative from its inception in the Los Angeles region. Today's operation is another example of a successful and coordinated effort to fight Health Care Fraud in Los Angeles."

An indictment merely contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty at trial.

The Strike Force cases were investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation; the Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General; and the California Department of Justice, Bureau of Medical Fraud and Elder Abuse.

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