Mecklenburg Co. Social Worker Pleads Guilty In Connection With Medicaid Fraud Scheme
A social worker with the Mecklenburg County Department of Social Services (DSS) appeared in federal court Thursday and pleaded guilty to federal charges for her role in a healthcare fraud scheme involving the stolen identities of clients enrolled with the Medicaid program. Ieshia Hicks Watkins, 33, of Charlotte, pleaded guilty before U.S. Magistrate Judge David S. Cayer to one count of health care fraud conspiracy and one count of receiving illegal kickbacks.
According to filed court documents and the plea hearing, October 2010 to February 2012, while employed at DSS, Watkins stole the names and identities of DSS clients, most of whom were minors. As a social worker, Watkins had access to the information contained in the client files on her caseload and the caseload of others within DSS. Court records indicate that Watkins sold the stolen information to her conspirator, Ronnie Lorenzo Robinson. Robinson, who operated Peaceful Alternative Resources, Inc., an organization he held out as a non-profit provider of mental health and mentoring services. PAR was approved by NC Medicaid as a mental health and behavioral health services provider. Robinson used the information Watkins provided to file fraudulent reimbursement claims with Medicaid for sham mental and behavioral health services that were never provided to those Medicaid recipients.
Watkins admitted in court today that she sold the misappropriated information in exchange for cash and gifts. According to information contained in court filings, Watkins received at least $10,000 as payment for selling DSS client names and identifying information to Robinson. Robinson then submitted nearly $30,000 in false and fraudulent claims to Medicaid using the stolen information.
At sentencing, Watkins faces a maximum term of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for the health care fraud conspiracy charge. She also faces a maximum of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine for receiving illegal kickbacks. In her plea agreement, Watkins has agreed to pay full restitution to Medicaid for any losses resulting from her criminal scheme. The final restitution amount will be determined by the court at Watkins’ sentencing hearing, which has not been scheduled yet. Watkins remains free on bond pending sentencing.
Robinson pleaded guilty in January 2014 to two counts of health care fraud and is currently awaiting sentencing.
The investigation into Watkins was handled by the FBI with assistance from the North Carolina Medicaid Investigations Division. The prosecution was handled by Assistant U.S. Attorney Kelli Ferry of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Charlotte.
The total number of DSS clients whose information was stolen was not included in court filings, and this incident does not appear on HHS’s public breach tool.
SOURCE: U.S. Attorney’s Office, Western District of North Carolina and court records