Crime & Courts

Charlotte head of Medicaid scam to serve time, repay millions

The Charlotte mastermind of a two-year scheme that stole millions of dollars from the federal Medicaid program will serve 2 1/2 years in prison and must repay the government some $3.1 million.

Federal prosecutors say Ronnie Lorenzo Robinson billed Medicaid for mental-health treatment that never occurred or was performed by unlicensed personnel.

He then spent the money on jewels and luxury cars – items that were seized by federal investigators.

Wednesday, the bill from taxpayers came due.

U.S. District Judge Frank Whitney sentenced the 37-year-old Charlotte man to 30 months in prison and ordered him to repay Medicaid, the federal program that provides health care for the poor.

“Robinson exploited a program designed to give much needed care to the less fortunate and used the money to buy luxury cars and jewelry,” U.S. Attorney Anne Tompkins told the Observer.

“This greed harms the needy, as well as every taxpayer. Robinson is on his way to federal prison, and his co-conspirators are not far behind him.”

Robinson, the owner of Peaceful Alternative Resources Inc. in Charlotte, Mooresville and Greensboro, pleaded guilty in 2014 to two counts of health care fraud.

Working with two former staff members of the Mecklenburg Department of Social Services, Robinson bilked Medicaid for millions of dollars over a four-year period ending in 2011.

Prosecutors say Robinson used the Medicaid provider numbers of three licensed clinicians who had done legitimate work for his company.

In return for kickbacks, DSS social workers Ieshia Hicks Watkins and Ryce Edward Hatchett also supplied Medicaid information from agency clients, which was used by Robinson to file for reimbursements.

Hatchett pleaded guilty Tuesday to health care fraud conspiracy and receiving illegal kickbacks; Watkins did likewise in October. Both await sentencing.

Medicaid, which is jointly run by the federal government and the states, provides the country’s largest source of money to meet the health-related needs of low-income Americans. But it has been a chronic target of fraud.

Phony diagnoses, duplicate billings and exorbitant reimbursement claims skim billions of dollars from the program every year.

While places like New York and Texas have put more sophisticated safeguards in place, the National Association of State Legislatures says most states use a “pay and chase” approach in which they try to recoup reimbursements once fraud has been uncovered.

In Robinson’s case, prosecutors say he billed Medicaid for $3.4 million in phony services and received all but $300,000 of that amount.

Now prosecutors are trying to collect.

Along with Whitney’s order that Robinson pay $3.1 million in restitution to Medicaid, the FBI and other investigators have seized five vehicles, including a Land Rover, a Mercedes and a classic 1972 Chevrolet Malibu, along with a 1 5/8-carat lady’s diamond ring. All are believed to have been purchased with the Medicaid money.

Officials say they also recovered an additional $660,000 connected to the fraud.