*picture - Robert Terdjanian, by AP, via Voice of America / Armenian Service
Dozens Arrested in Medicare-Fraud Scheme
The Wall Street Journal
By MICHAEL ROTHFELD
An Armenian-American organized crime ring based in New York and Los Angeles allegedly bilked a federal health-care program for tens of millions of dollars using stolen doctor and patient identities, law-enforcement authorities said in indictments unsealed Wednesday.
Dozens of people were arrested including a "vor"—a high-level organized crime figure from the former Soviet Union who allegedly gave protection to members of the group. The vor, Armen Kazarian, was based in Los Angeles.
The group, known as the Mirzoyan-Terdjanian Organization, was taken down as part of a nationwide health-care fraud sweep that included arrests in Ohio, New Mexico and Georgia. In New York, prosecutors charged more than 40 people in schemes that allegedly fraudulently billed Medicare for more than $100 million and receiving $35.7 million in payments.
It was the latest in a string of Medicare fraud busts nationwide by the Department of Justice over the past three years. In July, authorities announced charges against 94 people in separate schemes, including one involving Russian immigrants in Brooklyn, that allegedly submitted $251 million in phony billings.
The Armenian group allegedly stole the identities of doctors and patients, including thousands from the Orange Regional Medical Center in upstate New York. The names were allegedly used to file reimbursement requests from Medicare for procedures that weren't performed at 118 nonexistent clinics in 25 states.
According to one of the indictments, some of the fraudulent Medicare billings were from a forensic pathologist, who normally does autopsies, supposedly for office visits; an ophthalmologist billing for bladder tests; an obstetrician billing for skin tests.
The charges filed Wednesday include allegations of racketeering, health-care fraud, identity theft, money laundering and bank fraud. Prosecutors said members of the Armenian group allegedly used threats of violence to collect money they were owed. One alleged leader of the group, Robert Terdjanian, allegedly threatened to "disembowel" someone who owed him money.
FBI agents arrested 20 people in New York early Wednesday and others were taken into custody around the country, said Richard Kolko, a spokesman for the agency's New York office. Lawyers for the defendants could not be immediately identified.