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Pasadena doctor who falsely claimed patients were terminally ill is sentenced to four years for fraud

A Pasadena doctor convicted of falsely certifying that more than 79 patients were terminally ill as part of a scheme to bilk Medicare and Medi-Cal was sentenced by a federal judge to four years in prison.

U.S. District Judge S. James Otero also ordered Boyao Huang, 43, to pay $1,344,204 in restitution last week. In May, Huang was found guilty of four counts of healthcare fraud at the conclusion of a two-week trial that centered on a ploy to defraud the government of $8.8 million by making it pay for hospice-related services. Huang could have received up to 10 years in prison for each of the counts.

A second physician, Sri “Dr. J” Wijegoonaratna, 61, of Anaheim, was found guilty of seven counts of healthcare fraud during the trial. He is awaiting sentencing.

Prosecutors said the scheme involved Covina-based California Hospice Care, where employees paid so-called marketers or “cappers” to recruit Medicare and Medi-Cal beneficiaries. The patients were assessed by nurses to determine if they were terminally ill, according to federal prosecutors.

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Prosecutors argued that regardless of the nurse assessments, Huang and Wijegoonaratna certified that the patients were dying, even though most were not. The false certifications were then used to submit bills for unnecessary services, prosecutors said.

“In fact, only a small percentage of patients died — notwithstanding the two doctors declaring they needed hospice care,” said Eileen M. Decker, the U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California.

Prosecutors also said that Wijegoonaratna recruited some patients into the scheme and received tens of thousands of dollars in kickbacks. The California Medical Board has revoked his medical license.

The scheme was shut down in June 2013, according to prosecutors.

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In addition to the two doctors, eight other defendants were charged in the scheme and have pleaded guilty to healthcare fraud charges. Those defendants include a Placentia woman who purchased California Hospice Care in 2007 and operated the facility after being charged and incarcerated in another healthcare fraud scheme.

Priscilla Villabroza, 70, who pleaded guilty in December 2015 to one count of healthcare fraud, was sentenced to eight years in prison.

richard.winton@latimes.com

Twitter: @lacrimes

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