A federal judge imposed maximum sentences last week on four eastern Kentucky men convicted of using their ambulance services to milk the Medicaid system.
U.S. District Judge Henry Wilhoit Jr. in Lexington, Ky., said the operators of Mountain and Campton ambulance services in Wolfe County "exploited a generous society" and took advantage of a law "immersed in compassion."
The four were convicted last November of conspiracy and mail-fraud charges for arranging unnecessary ambulance trips and billing them to Medicaid. The defense claimed the runs were necessary or that their clients had no reason to question the patients.
Paul Joseph, 56, the owner of Mountain Ambulance, was sentenced to 37 months in prison for his conviction on 150 counts. He also was ordered to pay $141,954 in restitution to the state Cabinet for Human Resources.
Joseph's son, Jeffrey Joseph, 31, was sentenced to 33 months and ordered to pay the same restitution as his father. The younger Joseph, manager of both services, also was convicted of 150 charges.
The owner of Campton Ambulance, Gayle Doug Howes, 33, received 24 months and was ordered to pay $121,304 to the state. And Ralph Gross, 51, a driver for both services, got 24 months and must pay $123,095.
They were each convicted of one count of conspiracy and 80 counts of mail fraud.
Wilhoit ordered the men taken into immediate custody because a large amount of the money they were charged with taking is still unaccounted for. He said they are flight risks.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Frances Catron said the sentences were gratifying. While many think recipients are the biggest abusers of Medicaid, "it's the providers that are bilking the system for the large sums of money," Catron said.
She added: "The sentence was well-justified based on the gravity of the offense. Medicaid fraud is a big problem. It's now a national priority...and I would expect similar prosecutions in the future."