On February 11, 2021, the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) announced the first criminal charges for the misappropriation of funds designated for medical providers during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

According to the press release, Ms. Amina Abbas owned a home health business (“1 on 1 Home Health”) that she closed after receiving an overpayment demand above $1.6 million.  The overpayment demand arose because Ms. Abbas allegedly submitted claims for patients that did not qualify for home health services.  Important to the indictment is the allegation that 1 on 1 Home Health was not operational during the pandemic. Despite not being operational, Ms. Abbas received over $37,000 for 1 on 1 Home Health.  The money she received was from the CARES Act Provider Relief Fund, a fund for healthcare providers affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.  The government also alleges that Ms. Abbas disbursed the COVID-19 related funds to family members for personal use.  Ms. Abbas was indicted for embezzlement of government property, marking the first criminal charge “for the intentional misuse of funds intended to provide relief to health care providers.”

This is likely the first of many such enforcement actions.  In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the government passed the CARES Act, authorizing billions in funds through various initiatives like the Provider Relief Fund and the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).  The CARES Act contains several provisions establishing strict oversight over the distributed funds, and dedicating resources to investigating and punishing fraud, waste, and abuse.  CG attorneys discussed some of the layers of oversight created by the CARES Act, which can be read hereCG attorneys also provided a webinar with an overview (current as of June 2020) regarding the Provider Relief Fund and practical tips regarding compliance and avoiding liability.  The webinar is free and can be watched on-demand here.  Overall, the government has been clear that enforcement actions and focus on CARES Act funds, including Provider Relief Funds, will remain a top priority. 

The attorneys at Chilivis Grubman represent clients of all types and sizes in connection with government investigations, including fraud investigations and prosecutions.  If you need assistance with such a matter, please contact us today.