A Florida vascular surgeon bilked the government and health insurers of more than $26 million to possibly finance his political ambitions in his native country of Ghana, federal authorities said.
Earlier this month, a federal grand jury unsealed a 58-count indictment alleging that Dr. Moses deGraft-Johnson falsely billed insurers, including Medicare and Medicaid, for work he did not actually perform.
HHS investigators said that deGraft-Johnson claimed to have performed over a five-year period more than 3,600 atherectomies, a minimally invasive procedure that clears potentially dangerous buildup in arteries. Authorities said the doctor's practice in Tallahassee, Florida, also filed claims for angioplasties that were never performed.
In court documents filed by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of Florida, prosecutors argued to keep the doctor in custody, asserting that he was a flight risk because his "ultimate long-term professional goal" was to one day become the president of Ghana.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Charles A. Stampelos agreed and ordered deGraft-Johnson held until trial, set for March 23.
The government said it was "not in a position to evaluate the feasibility of such an endeavor" but saw evidence that he had "been hard at work using the proceeds of fraud in the United States to establish an empire in a foreign country."
Investigators said they looked into the doctor's bank accounts and discovered at least $1.8 million in international wire transfers to entities and associates in Ghana, a country of 29 million people situated along the western coast of Africa.
Authorities said one of the doctor's relatives served as the country's vice president in the 1980s.
"He's a wonderful doctor, and I will defend him vigorously," said William Bubsey, the attorney who represented deGraft-Johnson during Friday's detention hearings. Bubsey said it was still uncertain who will represent deGraft-Johnson because the doctor does not have access to his assets.
Bubsey disputed the government's allegations, saying that any money deGraft-Johnson might have sent overseas was meant to help the impoverished people of Ghana and not to enrich himself.
Indicted along deGraft-Johnson was Kimberly Austin, who prosecutors said served as the office manager of the Heart and Vascular Institute of Northern Florida owned and operated by deGraft-Johnson.
Together, they poached patients from a local hospital in which deGraft-Johnson had access to medical records, according to the government.
"He used his access to the hospital's daily census to poach patients for his scheme to defraud, instructing his staff to cold call patients from the hospital so that he could use their presence to fraudulently bill healthcare programs," prosecutors said in court documents.
In some cases, prosecutors said, deGraft-Johnson was not even in the country when some of the procedures were supposed to have been performed.