PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Federal charges have been filed against a chain of addiction treatment clinics, along with its owner and a former employee, for allegedly mistreating hundreds of patients and defrauding insurance providers out of millions of dollars.
U.S. Attorney Zachary Cunha held a news conference Thursday to announce health care fraud charges against Rhode Island-based Recovery Connection Centers of America (RCCA), owner Michael Brier, and Mi Ok Bruining.
Prosecutors allege Brier, Bruining and RCCA failed to provide patients with sufficient counseling sessions and treatment services for substance abuse disorder, but would still bill Medicare, Medicaid and other insurance providers.
“In fact, shortchanged their patients, providing them with little or no therapy and support while at the same time billing Medicare and other insurers,” Cunha said.
The criminal complaint says the sessions were typically 15 minutes or less, but the company billed insurers for 45-minute sessions.
“Bruining was known as the ‘five-minute queen’ because her counseling sessions would last no longer than that,” Cunha said of the 62-year-old Warwick resident.
At times, according to prosecutors, the amount of time billed for sessions would be impossible for a therapist to provide within a 24-hour period.
“On one occasion, Recovery Connection Centers of America billed taxpayers for 38 different patients claiming they each received 45 minutes of counseling, totaling 28 and a half hours in one day which, as we all know, doesn’t add up,” explained Joseph Bonavolonta, special agent in charge at the FBI’s Boston office.
The FBI said roughly 1,500 patients were affected by the scheme, most of whom live in Rhode Island. Need help? Click here for important phone numbers and information.
“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,” Bonavolonta added.
Watch: Full press conference (story continues below)
Brier, 60, of Newton, also faces charges of aggravated identity theft, money laundering, and obstruction. He’s accused of falsely purporting that he practiced medicine and writing fraudulent prescriptions using doctors’ names without their permission.
In an application submitted to Medicare, Brier allegedly “misrepresented and concealed his role in the business” and failed to disclose his 2013 criminal conviction for tax crimes, the complaint adds.
“We believe this convicted felon, tax evader and CEO stole millions of dollars until the proverbial mile-long paper trail and dozens of interviews our investigators obtained exposed him,” Bonavolonta said.
The government is looking to seize two buildings and two vehicles that were acquired through the alleged criminal conduct, as well as 13 bank accounts, according to Cunha.
Along with the FBI, the investigation was conducted by the Department of Health and Human Services and the Office of the Inspector General.
Brier was arraigned on the charges Thursday and ordered to surrender his passport and wear a GPS monitoring bracelet. Prosecutors said he’s a flight risk because he owns property in Panama and has previously violated court orders.
He must also have no involvement in his businesses and stay away from all employees, clients and witnesses. If he doesn’t abide by those conditions, the judge said Brier will go to jail.
Both the Rhode Island Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH) and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health’s Bureau of Substance Addiction Service are working to make sure RCCA patients get the treatment they need.
“Whenever something happens that disrupts any services, we’re out there to help our clients,” Linda Mahoney from the Department of Behavioral Healthcare said. “It’s dangerous for them if they don’t get continual services.”
Rhode Islanders in need of a new or immediate bridge prescription should call (401) 606-5456, while those in need of behavioral health referrals can call (401) 414-LINK or visit BHLink.org. Patients can also visit any Providence or Pawtucket fire station for help, BHDDH said.
Massachusetts patients should call (617) 414-4175 for a new or immediate bridge prescription and (800) 327-5050 for behavioral health referrals. They can also visit helplinema.org.
Anyone suffering from a medical emergency should call 911.