Authorities investigating allegations of a Medicaid scam involving doctors and others in New York City recall coming across something curious in a lower floor of a clinic: stacks of shoe boxes containing cheap, off-brand sneakers, boots and sandals in a variety of sizes.
Downstairs was “like a shoe store,” Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson said Tuesday at a news conference. “How many clinics have that?”
Prosecutors say the footwear stockpile was further proof that the clinic was part of a ring that used shoe giveaways to lure poor people into a scheme that cheated Medicaid out of nearly $7 million over a two-year period. An investigation publicly revealed Tuesday resulted in healthcare fraud, money laundering and other charges against 23 people, including nine physicians.
According to court papers, the ring used recruiters to approach poor people — referred to as "guinea pigs" by the purported ringleader — outside homeless shelters, soup kitchens and welfare centers. The people were offered free shoes if they could produce a valid Medicaid card and agreed to be taken by van to one of five clinics in Brooklyn and the Bronx, the papers said.
In some instances, the recruits weren't even required to take off their old shoes by the podiatrists giving the phony foot exams and fitting them with ankle braces and other devices they didn't need, authorities said. Other times, doctors would order a battery of other unnecessary tests, including pain management evaluations and cardiograms, which they billed to insurers.
The investigation relied on 10 undercover agents posing as fake patients and wearing hidden cameras. Wiretaps also captured Eric Vainer, the purported ringleader, discussing the scheme, authorities said.
“The key is to build up the business at 953,” Vainer told a counterpart in reference to a Bronx clinic, according to investigators. “Then we can use the same patients like guinea pigs for anything we want.”
It was unclear when Vainer, who was in custody in Florida on Tuesday, would appear in court. The name of his attorney was not immediately available.