2010-07-23 / Front Page

Solstice Patients Arrested

By Nicholas Briano
Two additional patient recruiters and six patients associated with Solstice Wellness Center in Rockaway Park, were arrested late last week for their role in the multi-million dollar Medicare fraud scheme that shut down the facility back in May. The arrests are part of the ongoing investigation by federal authorities.

Solstice Wellness Center in Rockaway Park was raided by federal officials back in May. Solstice Wellness Center in Rockaway Park was raided by federal officials back in May. The two patient recruiters from Solstice, Ilya Gershkovich and Pelageya Kotelsky, and six “over-utilized” or “serial” Medicare beneficiaries, three of them from Rockaway, were charged for their roles in a $2.8 million scheme in which fraudulent claims for physical and occupational therapy were submitted. Each of the defendant beneficiaries allegedly received health care kickbacks for either medically unnecessary services or services not rendered at all, that were then billed to Medicare, according to the indictment unsealed inside New York Eastern District Court last Thursday.

Patients arrested from Rockaway were Yefim Drakhler, 74; Evgeny Gil, 78; and Yefim Kornfield, 73; the other patients, all from Brooklyn, are Valentina Mushinskaya, 82; Shelya Pinkskaya, 71; and Vladimir Rubin, 70. They were all charged with one count of conspiracy to solicit and receive health care kickbacks.

According to the indictment, the Solstice Wellness Center beneficiaries are considered “over-utilized” because they are accused of seeking medical treatment from numerous providers, who submit multiple claims to Medicare for those medically unnecessary treatments or testing. During the period of January 2004 through February 2010, each of the defendant beneficiaries caused the submission of more than 2,200 claims for medical services under their names by visiting different health care providers and more recently, Solstice, located inside Sands Point Professional Plaza at 230 Beach 102 Street. The most “over-utilized” beneficiary, Mushinskaya, caused the submission of more than 3,744 claims under her name, and ultimately received more than $1,000 in cash kickbacks from Solstice. It is unknown if the defendants received kickbacks from doctors they visited outside of Solstice.

The Solstice Wellness Center arrests are the result of the initial raid of the facility back in May, when the center’s chief operating officer, Dmitry Shteyman, his brother Aleksey, Rockaway employee Maxsim Shvedkin, and office receptionist, Sara Kalantarov were indicted for allegedly recruiting Medicare beneficiaries and distributing cash kickbacks to them on a per visit basis. However, no patients or providers were arrested at that time.

The scheme at Solstice was initially suspected based on an analysis of Medicare claims submitted by Dr. Jesse A. Stoff, P.C, who was doing business under the center’s name. According to the indictment, the analysis shows Medicare paid Solstice more than $800,000 from March to April of 2009, which sent up a red flag to authorities.

As a result, an official investigation was launched in February of this year when an undercover agent entered Solstice claiming he hurt his back shoveling and provided employees with his Medicare information. That same day Dmitry Shteyman, the Chief Operating Officer at Solstice, allegedly offered the undercover a cash kickback for his visit, according to a recorded conversation revealed in court.

According to the indictment, on March 5, the undercover was asked to enter a private room where he was paid $300 for his previous six visits to Solstice by Shteyman’s brother, Aleksey, who advised him to put the cash in his pocket so others didn’t see it.

The undercover was paid on four more occasions in the “kickback room” and was even paid $50 for each referred patient on Medicare to Solstice. In addition, the undercover recorded and overheard patients discussing the cash kickbacks. In total, Solstice billed Medicare for more than $2.8 million from February 2009 to April 2010.

The patients’ identities were provided by a cooperating witness and former employee at Solstice, whom the court did not identify by name. The witness, who has already pled guilty to conspiracy to offer and pay illegal healthcare kickbacks, says the patients would regularly ask for the Shteyman brothers or Maxsim Shvedkin, another accused recruiter, about getting paid for their visits. According to the indictment, the cooperating witness says she observed the defendants enter the kickback room, which was a standard business office, where the beneficiaries would get paid.

As part of the investigation into Solstice, a former employee of the center, who was not criminally charged, provided officials with a “kickback ledger” in September 2009 that listed about 145 different Medicare beneficiaries and the amount of money they allegedly received in kickbacks spanning March to April of 2009. The cooperating witness then looked at the ledger and was able to acknowledge that the handwriting belonged to Aleksey Shteyman.

Investigators, the joint DOJ-HHS Medicare Fraud Strike Force, is a multi agency team of federal, state, and local investigators designed to combat Medicare fraud through the use of Medicare data analysis techniques and an increased focus on community policing. Law enforcement agents from the FBI, HHS-Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG), multiple Medicaid Fraud Control Units, and other state and local law enforcement agencies participated in the operations.

Additional arrests also took place last Thursday in Miami, where 24 defendants were charged for allegedly participating in various fraud schemes that led to approximately $103 million in false billings. Thirty-one defendants were charged in Baton Rouge for various schemes allegedly involving fraudulent claims for DME totaling approximately $32 million. And 22 defendants were charged in the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn for their alleged participation in schemes to submit fraudulent claims, totaling approximately $78 million for physical and occupational therapy and DME.

The cases will be prosecuted and investigated by Strike Force teams comprised of attorneys from the Fraud Section in the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and from the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices for the Southern District of Florida, the Eastern District of New York, the Middle District of Louisiana, the Eastern District of Michigan, and the Southern District of Texas; and agents from the FBI and HHS-OIG.

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