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'Unconscionable and Evil' Hospice Fraud Earns Exec 20 Years in Prison

Thousands of patients coerced into unneeded end-of-life care that cost Medicare millions

 Gavel and justice scales with stethoscope in the background
krisanapong detraphiphat/Getty Images

After being convicted of crimes that were lambasted as “evil” and “abhorrent,” a longtime hospice official in Texas was sentenced last week to 20 years in prison.

Rodney Mesquias, 48, of San Antonio, systematically built the Merida Group into a “massive enterprise” spanning the state, prosecutors said. In fact, the business run by Mesquias and associates was an “utterly corrupt enterprise riddled with lies."

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Thousands of vulnerable patients, some suffering from dementia, were lied to and manipulated and told they had less than six months to live. They then were enrolled in hospice programs and Medicare was billed.

Some patients placed in hospice programs were active individuals and not suffering from a deadly illness. One, in fact, worked as a Walmart greeter.

"The grist for defendants’ multimillion-dollar fraud scheme were thousands of vulnerable Medicare beneficiaries — elderly, disabled, infirm, physically impaired and in many instances suffering mental decline,” prosecutors said. Patients and their families were “manipulated and lied to,” government lawyers said.

To advance the scheme, physicians were paid kickbacks for enrolling Medicare beneficiaries in hospice care. Nurses were told to falsely document patients’ conditions to support phony diagnoses. Medical records were falsified, making it appear patients were dying when they were not, and altered documents were given to a federal grand jury “to attempt to avoid indictment."

Las Vegas and Louis Vuitton

Authorities said Mesquias and his co-defendants spent the proceeds of their crimes on trips to Las Vegas, clothing from Louis Vuitton, luxury cars, including a Porsche, and tickets to premium sporting events.

At lavish parties in Las Vegas nightclubs, Mesquias treated doctors to “tens of thousands of dollars in alcohol and other perks in exchange for medically unnecessary patient referrals."

At sentencing, Mesquias was also ordered to pay $120 million in restitution to Medicare. His scheme operated for nearly a decade, from 2009 to 2018. At the heart of the case were 47,210 claims relating to 9,339 Medicare patients. Altogether, the billings exceeded $152.7 million.

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