Medical center slashes staff

Christ Medical Center closed in 2018. It's former bookkeeper was sentenced for health care fraud. 

A Lecanto woman who pleaded guilty last year to committing health care fraud was sentenced Wednesday to five years’ probation and four months of home detention, but avoided jail time.

U.S. District Judge Mary Scriven also ordered the Lecanto woman, Teresa Johnson, 53, owner of Tri-County Billing, to pay restitution to the defrauded federal heal care programs, that included Medicare, Medicaid, TRICARE, and CHAMPVA, and entered a money judgment of more than $5,700, representing a portion of the money Johnson obtained through fraud, according to a U.S. Department of Justice news release.   

Through her Tri-County Billing company, Johnson submitted mostly false and fraudulent claims for three clinics owned and operated by a local doctor, now deceased. The clinics were in Crystal River, Spring Hill, and Celebration. The news release also said the doctor filed for bankruptcy on behalf of his medical practice in April 2019.

Although the news release doesn’t mention the doctor and clinics by name, the U.S. and state governments joined a pair of former employees in suing Christ Medical Center and its owner Dr. Eihab Tawfik in federal court in 2018. The lawsuit alleged hundreds of incidents of Medicare and Medicaid fraud, which are similar to those alleged in Johnson’s plea agreement. The lawsuit names Johnson as the billing supervisor for Christ Medical Center, although she is not a defendant in the lawsuit.

Tawfik also filed for bankruptcy on behalf of his practices in Crystal River, Spring Hill, and Celebration. Tawfik also died late last year. Another local doctor bought the Christ Medical Center building, but the building, nor the new owner are afflicated with Tawfik or Johnson.

Johnson also worked for the Tawfik in question and later the doctor helped Johnson financially to create Tri-County Billing, according to the news release.

“Doctor 1 employed numerous health care providers, many who were not authorized to perform, and prohibited from, billing for medical services,” the Justice Department said. “Doctor 1 directed Johnson to bill claims performed by these prohibited health care providers as if they were rendered by Doctor 1, when they were not. One of these providers was a pain management doctor who had been denied enrollment in the Medicare and Medicaid program. Another doctor had been excluded from billing, directly or indirectly, any government healthcare programs.”

“Doctor 1 also hired nurse practitioners to perform medical services, and directed Tri-County to submitted claims as if a doctor had performed those services,” the news release stated. “Both Johnson and Doctor 1 knew all of these claims were false and fraudulent.” 

Contact Chronicle reporter Fred Hiers at fred.hiers@chronicleonline.com or 352-397-5914.

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