Apparent Monticello connection to nationwide Medicare fraud case

Unwanted medical equipment shipped to a Monticello, Wisconsin resident as part of apparent Medicare fraud scheme.

MONTICELLO, Wis. (WMTV, NBC News)-- A Monticello, Wisconsin woman was apparently among many Medicare patients who received unwanted medical equipment from scammers involved in an alleged Medicare fraud ring.

Monticello Police Chief Szvon Conway provided NBC15 News with police reports that show he was dispatched to a woman's home April 3 for a report of a suspicious package.

The woman had received a box from Florida containing a knee brace that had been prescribed by a doctor she had never heard of. She has no medical issue with her knees. The woman asked Chief Conway to take the box since "she didn't want anything to do with it."

Chief Conway forwarded the evidence on to the Office of Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Service.

The Monticello woman was by far not the only one to receive unwanted medical equipment as part of this apparent fraudulent scheme. This week, federal authorities charged two dozen people, including doctors and owners of medical equipment companies, in a more than $1 billion Medicare scam, authorities said Tuesday.

Investigators uncovered the sprawling plot that targeted elderly and disabled people by setting them up with back, neck and knee braces that they didn't need, according to federal prosecutors.

Called Operation Brace Yourself, the investigation discovered that medical brace manufacturers were allegedly paying kickbacks and bribes to doctors working with fraudulent telemedicine companies in exchange for Medicare patient referrals for medically unnecessary braces.

The ill-gotten gains were then laundered through international shell companies and used to buy exotic cars, yachts and luxury real estate in the United States and overseas, prosecutors said.

"The taxpayers should be outraged by this," Gary Cantrell, who oversees fraud investigations for the Health and Human Services inspector general's office, said in an interview with NBC News. "These are losses to the Medicare program that we all, as taxpayers, fund."

As part of the scheme, doctors were paid to prescribe braces to patients they had little to no relationship with. Prescriptions frequently came after doctors had brief conversations via phone or video conference with patients they had never met, prosecutors said.

The global fraud involved call centers in the Philippines and throughout Latin America.

As a result, the personal information of hundreds of thousands of Medicare beneficiaries across the country was compromised and could be used in future schemes, prosecutors said. An even larger number of patients received unwanted braces sent to their homes. The unwanted products could disqualify them from receiving a brace under Medicare if they need one in the future, prosecutors said.

"White-collar crime is not victim-less," Sherri Lydon, U.S. attorney for the district of South Carolina, where the probe originated, said at a press conference announcing the indictments. "All taxpayers will endure the rising cost of health care premiums and out-of-pocket costs as a result of fraud on our Medicare system."