Medical center slashes staff

Christ Medical Center closed in 2018. Its former bookkeeper faces federal insurance fraud charges.

A Lecanto woman who was bookkeeper for a late Crystal River physician is being charged in federal court with defrauding Medicare and Medicaid.

Teresa Johnson, 53, is expected to plead guilty in federal court to conspiracy to commit health care fraud, according to a plea agreement provided Thursday by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Tampa. She faces up to 10 years in prison.

Records show Johnson operated a bookkeeping service for a Crystal River doctor and inappropriately billed Medicaid and Medicare for services, or ordered tests that were not medically necessary.

While the plea agreement does not mention the doctor by name, the U.S. and state governments joined a pair of former employees in suing Christ Medical Center and Dr. Eihab Tawfik, the office’s owner, in federal court in 2018 alleging 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, although she is not a defendant in the lawsuit.

Tawfik, who closed Christ Medical Center in April 2018 after filing for bankruptcy, died Sept. 15 at age 44.

According to the plea agreement, Johnson worked for Tawfik from 2010 to 2015, then in 2016 opened her own business, Tri-County Medical Billing, with Tawfik’s financial assistance.

Johnson knew that many of the Medicare and Medicaid billings from Christ Medical were false or fraudulent because the doctor had not performed the services, or they were performed by a physician on staff who was not a Medicare or Medicaid provider, the plea agreement states.

It states that Johnson also billed for tests she knew were not medically necessary.

Although the plea agreement does not state a specific recommended sentence for Johnson, it does say the U.S. Attorney’s Office will recommend a sentence on the “low end” of guidelines.

Contact Chronicle reporter Mike Wright at 352-563-3228 or mwright@chronicleonline.com.

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