A 68-year-old Coral Gables, Florida woman is headed to prison for 33 months after being convicted in a shocking Medicaid fraud scheme. U.S. District Court Judge Mary Scriven sentenced Ilfrenise Charlemagne to prison after her guilty plea to a federal wire fraud charge. The plea was part of an agreement in which Charlemagne avoided trial and avoided facing 41 other charges all related to a massive Medicaid fraud scheme.
According to records released from the U.S. Department of Justice, Charlemagne was the mastermind of a scheme that involved stealing benefits from elderly and mentally ill patients. Until her convictions, she was the owner of an assisted living facility in St. Petersburg, Florida.
Ilfrenise Charlemagne, previously owned and operated Pleasant Alternatives, formerly known as Hilcrest Residential Assisted Living Facility. Prosecutors say that this was not Charlemagne’s first brush with Medicaid fraud.
Ilfrenise Charlemagne and Hilcrest Residential
According to court records, Charlemagne opened the Hilcrest Residential facility in 2008. Hilcrest was an assisted living facility that mostly provided services to elderly and mentally ill patients. Many older or poor patients rely on Social Security and Medicaid to pay for their living arrangements.
Not all assisted living residents are vulnerable or unable to properly care for themselves but Hilcrest catered those clients. That is one of many reasons why her crime was so heinous.
Florida Accuses Charlemagne and Hilcrest of Deplorable Living Conditions
Ilfrenise Charlemagne only managed to keep the doors at Hilcrest Residential for a few years. In 2011, Florida state regulators officials closed the home after finding residents were living in squalid conditions.
The Florida Agency for Health Care Administration claimed the home was infested with bedbugs and roaches. The people living there were often undernourished and “at risk of serious injury and health problems.”
Media reports say that some patients were covered with bite marks from the bedbug infestation. Things were so bad that some residents’ linens were “spattered” with blood from the incessant biting.
Rather than give the home time to fix problems, the state decided they needed to simply close the home. That meant residents had to relocated. Residents were forced to move on short notice and had to leave behind their possessions until they could be treated for infestation.
The 2011 closure of Hilcrest Residential was not an isolated incident. The Tampa Bay Times reports that the facility had previously been investigated and cited for its unsanitary conditions. The state also found that residents’ medications were not properly controlled.
Shortly after being cited and shut down, Ilfrenise Charlemagne settled the state charges. As part of her agreement, Charlemagne agreed not to own an assisted living facility for 5 years.
Patient Abuse, Financial Abuse and Medicaid Fraud
Instead of closing as ordered, Prosecutors now say that Charlemagne simply changed the name of Hilcrest to Pleasant Alternative. She also changed state paperwork to make it appear that the facility was under new ownership. (The “new” owner disavowed ownership leading to an identity theft charge against Charlemagne.)
Charlemagne and Hilcrest Residential skirted the regulators for three years between 2008 and 2011. This time the law caught up even more quickly against Pleasant Alternative. Two years later after the home’s alleged “new ownership,”, Florida again shut down the facility.
In 2013, the state found that the facility “posed a serious and immediate danger to residents and the public.” This time the home had no properly working heating and cooling system and was invested with vermin. There were also rats. Unfortunately for residents, regulators said the facility deprived residents of both food and medication.
This time, prosecutors also say that she stole over $1 million in government benefits intended for residents. Like most Medicare and Medicaid fraud schemes, taxpayer money was diverted to help subsidize Ilfrenise Charlemagne’s lifestyle. Prosecutors say the stolen funds were used to make credit card payments, personal expenses and car payments.
Ilfrenise Charlemagne Charged with Wire, Medicaid Fraud
In 2015, Charlemagne was indicted for the new criminal conduct. Shortly after her indictment, she was arrested in Ft. Lauderdale and brought back to Tampa to face the new charges.
In early 2017, she pleaded guilty to a single count of wire fraud. Until this month’s sentencing, Charlemagne was facing up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Attempts to Avoid Prison
After her conviction, the court ordered a presentence investigation to assist the court at sentencing. Sentencing reports are prepared by court staff and not prosecutors. The probation officer conducting the investigation of Charlemagne recommended a sentence of 6 years. Like many criminals who don’t want to accept responsibility for their actions, Charlemagne argued that her sentence be home confinement or just one month in prison.
Her lawyer told the court that Charlemagne fled to the United States from Haiti and that although not a citizen, she “spent almost a quarter of a century in the United States…[as] a registered nurse that devoted a considerable amount of time on this earth to caring for the sick, the elderly, and the underprivileged before she broke character and committed the criminal conduct to which she plead guilty and which she deeply regrets.”
Charlemagne unsuccessfully argued that the risk of deportation or loss of her nursing license was more than enough punishment.
In a letter to the court, her daughter wrote, “We have all been taught about hard work, the importance of education and about the step by step process of being successful. My mom did not take short cuts, she did it right and followed the rules in everything she did. My mother is a strong, proud black women who has dedicated her life for her children, she has never been malicious or intentionally hurt others.”
Prosecutors disagreed and said that she often hurt others. The folks suffering the most harm were her clients; elderly people and Medicaid recipients who relied on her for a safe place to live and for assistance with meals and chores.
Elderly and mentally ill patients are often quite vulnerable. Her residents (and their families) relied on Charlemagne to care for them. Instead she diverted money meant for their care so that she could pay her own bills.
Prosecutors correctly noted that despite the claims of her daughter and other family members, Ilfrenise Charlemagne did act intentionally and did cause harm to others.
Charlemagne Sentenced to Prison
On April 5th, 2017, the court sentenced Ilfrenise Charlemagne to serve 33 months in a federal prison. Her pleas for house arrest were ignored. When released, Charlemagne must then serve an additional 3 years on supervised probation. The court ordered her to pay some restitution but we question her ability to pay. If she does go back to work, she cannot work in or own a nursing home or assisted living facility.
She also faces deportation when released.
Charlemagne’s prosecution was a joint effort between the Florida Medicaid Fraud Control Unit, FBI, special agents from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Social Security Administration.
Medicaid Fraud and Elder Financial Abuse Is Increasing
The fastest growing segment of the U.S. population are senior citizens. Many of the baby boomers born just after World War II are now in their 60’s and 70’s. Unfortunately, for many seniors, dementia and other health problems cause them to be susceptible to elder financial abuse schemes.
Some folks steal directly from the patients in their care while others choose to defraud Medicaid. Since Medicare and Medicaid are financed by tax dollars, we all become victims when people commit healthcare fraud.
Cash Whistleblower Awards for Reporting Medicaid Fraud
The FBI claims that Medicaid and Medicare fraud have reached epidemic proportions. Tens of billions of dollars are lost each year to fraud. Government auditors constantly search for abuses but only have enough staff to audit 0.5 percent of healthcare providers each year. Even if a facility or provider is audited, there usually isn’t enough time or resources to trace every payment and claim for reimbursement.
Congress realized that some contractors prey on taxpayers and with little risk of getting caught. During the U.S. Civil War, defense contractors were constantly stealing from taxpayers and supplying inferior products to the Union Army. President Lincoln and Congress passed the False Claims Act which allows private citizens to prosecute claims on behalf of the government. The law allows those citizens to keep a percentage of the government’s recovery as payment for bringing the action and alerting authorities of the fraud.
Over 150 years later the False Claims Act law is still on the books.
Today, the False Claims Act pays whistleblowers with inside information about Medicaid and Medicare a percentage of whatever the government recovers. The typical percentage ranges between 15% and 30% of what Uncle Sam collects.
To find out if you qualify for an award, give us a call. All consultations are confidential and protected by the attorney client privilege.
Worried about retaliation? That is illegal and we can prosecute whistleblower retaliation claims should one arise.
Worried about the hassle and cost of hiring a lawyer? The whistleblower lawyers at MahanyLaw accept whistleblower cases on a contingent fee basis. We don’t get paid unless we recover money for you and the government.
And the hassle? Our whistleblower team is led by a former prosecutor and investigator. We certainly know how to prosecute these cases. More importantly, we are successful. In the last three years, our whistleblower clients have received over $100 million in award monies.
For more information, contact attorney Brian Mahany at or by phone at (direct). You can also visit our Medicare fraud information page.
MahanyLaw – America’s Medicaid Fraud Lawyers.