LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:
A nationwide ring has been charged with trying to steal more than $160 million from Medicare.
Ailsa Chang from member station WNYC reports.
AILSA CHANG: Prosecutors are calling it the largest Medicare fraud scheme ever committed by a single group. Seventy-three people operating across 25 states have been charged in a scheme allegedly run by an Armenian-American organized crime group. The U.S. attorney in Manhattan, Preet Bharara, says that the suspects stole identities from thousands of doctors and legitimate Medicare patients. They set up phony health clinics and billed Medicare for treatments that were never performed.
Mr. PREET BHARARA (Attorney): Today's indictments should send a strong message to those who think that they can game our country's healthcare system and steal taxpayer dollars that had been earmarked for our nation's elderly.
CHANG: Here's how it allegedly worked: Many of the bogus clinics were mailbox addresses. From there, members of the ring would send Medicare bills for expensive treatments. Prosecutors say the criminals often got sloppy: eye doctors billed for bladder treatments, dermatologists billed for heart exams. The groups supposedly took advantage of the user-friendly side of Medicare. It tries to pay health care providers promptly by not verifying whether treatments have actually been rendered before it sends money.
Among those in custody is Armen Kazarian. The FBI calls him the vor, or godfather, of the operation. And investigators say he's the first vor ever arrested for racketeering in the U.S.
For NPR News, I'm Ailsa Chang, in New York.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.