Mobile Doctors defendants make first court appearance
By Andis Robeznieks
U.S. District Judge Mary Rowland asked the defendant how he was doing today.
“I've had better days, your honor,” replied Dike Ajiri, CEO of Mobile Doctors, a Chicago-based firm providing home health services in six states.
Ajiri and Dr. Banio Koroma were arrested Tuesday on Medicare fraud-related charges. Both stood in the federal courtroom in downtown Chicago with their hands handcuffed behind their backs. Koroma appeared slightly more comfortable, having each wrist locked in a separate pair of cuffs with the two empty rings locked together in the middle of his back. Among the people flanking Koroma was a woman in a dark, short-sleeved shirt with “HHS-OIG” in gold letters on her sleeve.
Ajiri, 42, was charged with healthcare fraud and Koroma, 63, was charged with making false statements related to healthcare benefits. Federal agents are reportedly searching Mobile Doctors offices in Chicago, Detroit and Indianapolis and are in the process of seizing almost $2.57 million from various bank accounts. According to a 75-page affidavit from HHS investigator Raul Sese, they are accused of defrauding Medicare in a scheme involving upcoding for home visits and falsely certifying that patients were confined to their homes. Agents from the Railroad Retirement Board, a federal agency that administers the railroad industry's pension program, are involved in the investigation.
There also is an ongoing investigation looking at billing practices for medically unnecessary tests, according to a U.S. Justice Department news release. The HHS inspector general's office and the FBI began operating a “Medicare Strike Force” in Chicago in February 2011. Home healthcare providers have been a target of their scrutiny.
In the affidavit, it was explained that a typical visit with an established Mobile Doctors' patient usually was routine in nature and took 10 to 30 minutes. But the visits were usually billed to Medicare as the highest or second-highest billing codes for a house call for which, in 2009, the local Medicare fees were $171.25 and $122.82. Between 2006 and 2012, Mobile Doctors allegedly received around $21.4 million in payments for the second-highest code and $12.6 million in Medicare payments using the highest code.
Rowland told the men what they were each charged with and the maximum penalties they faced: Ten years in prison for Ajiri, a five-year sentence for Koroma, and a $250,000 fine for each.
In an interview after the hearing, Deputy U.S. Attorney Stephen Lee said the criminal complaint is only the beginning of the process and that there could be additional charges contained in an indictment. He added that, barring any time extensions granted during hearings, an indictment could come as soon as 30 days.
Ajiri was represented by attorney Darryl Goldberg, and Koroma, for purposes of the bond hearing, by public defender Sergio Rodriguez.
Lee told Rowland that Ajiri posed a flight risk. Goldberg disagreed but didn't object when it was decided that Ajiri would be held two days until an Aug. 29 hearing. Some discussion followed about securing the medication he needed for a “serious liver condition.”
Koroma was allowed to go home on conditional release, which included a $50,000 unsecured bond.
Rowland explained the conditions to Koroma and then paused to ask “Are you able to hear me?”
“Eh?” Koroma replied.
“Are you able to hear me?” Rowland repeated.
“Yes,” he answered.
Rowland explained to Koroma how, if he failed to appear in court, the bondsmen would seek collection of $50,000. She added that he was to have no contact with Mobile Doctors patients. If they tried to contact him, he was not allowed to respond.
Koroma was also due back in court Aug. 29.
Follow Andis Robeznieks on Twitter: @MHARobeznieks