Ex-con accused of again orchestrating Medical Assistance fraud

A Brooklyn Park woman who pleaded guilty in 2010 to defrauding Minnesota's Medical Assistance program is accused of again bilking the state out of millions of dollars in a similar scheme.

Attorney General Lori Swanson filed criminal charges this week in Ramsey County District Court against Barbara Currin and six accomplices, alleging they billed the Medical Assistance program for at least $2.6 million for in-home nursing services that often were not provided.

"Minnesotans are very generous in supporting Medical Assistance as a health care safety net," Swanson said at a Wednesday morning news conference. "When a bad-apple provider rips off the Medical Assistance program, it's really an affront to the taxpayers."

From 2012 to 2015, Currin and her co-defendants allegedly created eight home-health care agencies that billed the state for nursing services they claimed to have provided to patients. In some cases, no services were provided; in others, patients received only a fraction of the care that was billed, the criminal complaints allege.

The 51-year-old Currin, who was barred from working with the Medical Assistance program because of her previous conviction, allegedly recruited six people - five of them family members - to set up the companies in their names to conceal her involvement.

"Currin directed the companies and she profited from the companies, despite the ban," Swanson said, citing emails obtained through a search warrant.

Swanson estimates Currin received at least $300,000 in compensation from the eight companies.

As authorities began looking into each of these companies, Currin and her accomplices would close the company that was under suspicion and open a new one in its place to continue the scheme, Swanson said.

Some patients were allegedly paid kickbacks for using Currin's companies as their Medical Assistance provider, which is a violation of federal law, Swanson said.

"We believe these payments were designed to sweeten the pot...so that patients would, No. 1, join and sign up, No. 2, stay and not leave and, No. 3, not complain" about the lack of services provided, Swanson said.

Swanson did not say whether any patients would be charged, adding that her office continues to investigate whether some were "in on the scheme."

The charges outlined in this week's criminal complaint against Currin recall the three counts of Medical Assistance fraud Swanson's office brought against her in 2009.

In a four-month period ending in May 2008, Currin's company, Ometta Vent Care Services, billed the state for more than 15,000 hours of nursing care, even though timesheets showed only 813 hours of work by registered nurses. The rate for care provided by nurses was three times the rate for care provided by unlicensed personal care attendants.

Beyond the overbilling, Swanson alleged the company provided poor care to a vulnerable population of 25 patients. Ten needed ventilators to breathe. Thirteen needed round-the-clock nursing care.

"It's very, very troubling that (Currin) would come before us again," Swanson said Wednesday, adding that she "engaged in very egregious activity before and obviously did not learn from the experience."

Currin is in prison at the Minnesota Correctional Facility-Shakopee for violating the terms of her probation, which prohibited her from involvement with the Medical Assistance program. She was not in prison when the new crimes were allegedly committed.

An attorney for Currin is not listed on court documents.

Pioneer Press
Article Publish Date: 
December 30, 2015