For something completely different and entirely predictable, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) has announced crackdowns on COVID-19 fraud and scam artists. You probably remember that various anti-vaccine scammers have been profiting from the COVID-19 pandemic, so this may not be a big surprise. But it’s fun to read.
I’m just going to post the various cases the DOJ has been pursuing against COVID-19 fraud, just for a little comedy relief. Actually, it’s not that funny, some of these people stole millions of dollars pushing their fraud.
Imran Shams and Lourdes Navarro of Glendale, California, were charged by indictment with conspiracy to commit health care fraud, conspiracy to pay and payment of illegal kickbacks and bribes, false statements to Medicare (the Federal health insurance for seniors and disabled), and money laundering, for their roles in an alleged scheme to defraud Medicare of over $214 million for laboratory tests, including nearly $144 million in false and fraudulent claims during the COVID-19 health emergency for COVID-19 and respiratory pathogen tests that were submitted without regard to medical necessity.
Shams (the irony of this name) and Navarro owned and controlled Matias Clinical Laboratory, Inc., dba Health Care Providers Lab (Matias), a clinical laboratory that performed and billed Medicare for urinalysis, routine blood work, and other tests, despite the fact that Shams had been excluded from all participation in Medicare for several decades. The indictment alleges that Shams and Navarro fraudulently concealed Shams’s role in the lab and his prior healthcare-related criminal convictions. The indictment also alleges that Shams and Navarro paid kickbacks to marketers who obtained specimens and test orders and laundered the proceeds of the scheme through shell companies Navarro controlled, including by making expenditures on real estate, luxury items, and personal goods and services.
Artur Chanchikyan, of Los Angeles, California, was charged by indictment with wire fraud, theft of government property, and concealment of money laundering offenses in connection with an alleged scheme to defraud the United States of approximately $345,000 in COVID-19 relief monies. Chanchikyan, the owner and operator of Gentle Touch Home Health Care Inc., formerly a home health agency, allegedly filed fraudulent loan applications with both the SBA and a financial institution seeking COVID-19 relief funds, falsely attested to the use of additional funds provided under the CARES Act Provider Relief Fund, and then misused the funds for his own personal use and benefit and the benefit of others.
Costanza and Mazi
Jason Costanza, of El Campo, Texas, was charged by indictment with conspiracy and making false statements in connection with an alleged scheme to offer fake cures for COVID-19 and distribute fake COVID-19 vaccination record cards. Costanza was the office manager for Juli Mazi, a naturopathic doctor, and conspired with her to offer and sell products known as “homeoprophylaxis immunizations” (a form of homeopathic quackery) that she claimed would provide a complete cure for COVID-19. In furtherance of the scheme, Costanza and Mazi provided customers with fraudulent vaccine record cards to falsely make it appear that customers received government-approved vaccines.
Jaimi Jansen, of Santa Cruz, California, was charged by information with making false statements related to health care matters in connection with an alleged scheme to offer fake cures for COVID-19 and distribute fake COVID-19 vaccination record cards. Jansen was the owner of an integrative health and wellness center in Santa Cruz, California.
According to the charges, Jansen functioned as a distributor for Juli Mazi, a naturopathic doctor who offered and sold products known as “homeoprophylaxis immunizations” that she claimed would provide a complete cure for COVID-19, and provided customers with fraudulent CDC COVID-19 vaccination record cards to falsely make it appear that customers received FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccines. Jansen allegedly purchased and repackaged for distribution Mazi’s homeoprophylaxis immunization pellets (repeat, it does not work, it’s pseudoscience) and fake CDC COVID-19 vaccination record cards, providing them to approximately 170 recipients.
Ron K. Elfenbein, 47, of Arnold, Maryland, was charged by indictment with three counts of health care fraud in connection with an alleged scheme to defraud the United States of more than $1.5 million in claims that were billed in connection with COVID-19 testing. Elfenbein was one of the owners and the medical director of Drs ERGent Care, LLC, d/b/a First Call Medical Center, and Chesapeake ERgent Care. Elfenbein allegedly instructed employees of Drs ERgent Care to submit claims to Medicare and other insurers for moderate-complexity office visits even though Elfenbein knew that for some or all of the COVID-19 testing patients those visits lasted five minutes or less.
Lisa Hammell, of Turnersville, New Jersey, an employee of the U.S. Postal Service, was charged by indictment with an alleged conspiracy to defraud the United States and fraud in connection with identification documents for her role in creating and distributing to others fraudulent COVID-19 vaccination record cards. Beginning in or around March 2021, Hammell allegedly sold fraudulent COVID-19 vaccination record cards that she created by designing a COVID-19 vaccination record card and printing dozens of fraudulent cards while working at a post office.
Hammell allegedly sold at least 400 fraudulent COVID-19 vaccination cards to unvaccinated people. As alleged in the indictment, the goal of the conspiracy was to undermine the CDC’s function of administering the COVID-19 vaccination program and ensuring that genuine COVID-19 vaccination cards containing accurate information are distributed to vaccine recipients only by authorized providers.
Robert Van Camp, of Parker, Colorado, was charged by criminal complaint with conspiracy to defraud the United States and trafficking in counterfeit goods in connection with an alleged scheme to produce and sell fake COVID-19 vaccination record cards. Van Camp allegedly obtained and then used a blank COVID-19 vaccination record card to forge hundreds of fake vaccination record cards, which he sold to buyers and distributors in at least a dozen states.
Van Camp allegedly told an undercover agent that he had sold cards to “people that are going to the Olympics in Tokyo, three Olympians and their coach in Tokyo, Amsterdam, Hawaii, Costa Rica, Honduras. I’ve got a company, a veterinary company, that has 30 people going to Canada every fucking day, Canada back. Mexico is big. And like I said, I’m in 12 or 13 states, so until I get caught and go to jail, fuck it, I’m taking the money, (laughs)! I don’t care.” To conceal the scheme, Van Camp allegedly referred to the fake COVID-19 vaccination record cards using code names, such as “gift card,” “restaurant gift card,” and “consulting.” Van Camp allegedly made thousands of dollars from the sale of fake vaccination record cards, some of which he sold for $175 each.
Wait a minute, $175 for fake vaccine cards? Sometimes I wonder if being on the science side is losing me income.
Linda Tufui Toli, of Salt Lake City, a former employee of the pre-flight COVID testing service “XpresCheck” in the Salt Lake City International Airport terminal, was charged by criminal information with wire fraud for providing counterfeit negative test results to travelers. Toli allegedly intercepted calls from travelers who were seeking COVID testing services from XpresCheck prior to traveling to destinations such as Hawaii, Israel, and other locations which required travelers to provide negative COVID test results prior to departure. Toli allegedly canceled the travelers’ COVID tests through XpresCheck and arranged for travelers to purchase counterfeit negative COVID tests directly from her, and accepted payment for the counterfeit test results using electronic mobile payment services.
Ranna Shamiya, of Ukiah, California, was charged by information with making false statements related to health care matters in connection with an alleged scheme to offer fake cures for COVID-19 and distribute fake COVID-19 vaccination record cards. Shamiya, a licensed advanced practice pharmacist, was the Director of Pharmacy at a hospital in the Northern District of California. According to the information, Shamiya became aware that Juli Mazi, a naturopathic doctor, offered and sold products known as “homeoprophylaxis immunizations” that she claimed would provide a complete cure for COVID-19, and provided customers with fraudulent CDC COVID-19 vaccination record cards to falsely make it appear that customers received FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccines. In order to assist Mazi’s scheme,
Shamiya allegedly used her access to controlled medical information as the Director of Pharmacy at a hospital in the Northern District of California to identify legitimate lot numbers for FDA-authorized COVID-19 vaccines, and transmitted that information to Mazi, so that Mazi could use the lot numbers to create fake CDC COVID-19 vaccination record cards that falsely appeared to reflect that Mazi’s customers received an FDA-authorized COVID-19 vaccine with a real lot number, when they in fact did not receive such a vaccine.
Apparently, Juli Mazi was the center of a large scam of fake immunizations and fake vaccination cards.
Justice is served for COVID-19 fraud
This is just a handful of the dozens of cases pursued in April 2022 against COVID-19 fraudsters and scammers. They did everything from faking claims to Medicare to faking vaccination records to faking COVID-19 tests to faking vaccines.
Setting aside the fact that these frauds stole money from the government and from people who used their services, they put people in danger. The fake vaccine cards may have put thousands of people at risk when they traveled or even visited a local restaurant.
I know that expect that people will commit fraud, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, because people are always out looking for a way to steal money from people.
Of course, these people are probably heroes to the anti-vaccine movement because they sold fake vaccines (that homeoprophylaxis immunizations nonsense) and vaccination cards to people who couldn’t care less about their own health or the health of others by doing everything they could to avoid the COVID-19 vaccine.
Well, at least the Department of Justice is pushing criminal and civil cases against these fraudsters. I hope they all spend a long time in the US prison system.
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