A Zachary home health care business owner accused of violating Louisiana’s sparingly used racketeering statute in an alleged Medicaid fraud scheme pleaded guilty this week to a racketeering charge and faces up to 50 years in prison when she is sentenced in June in Baton Rouge state court.
A state audit found several years ago that Chanda Hall’s company, Empowering Care Services LLC, fraudulently billed Medicaid for services never provided by caregivers who were hired with either no criminal background check or a positive criminal background check over a three-year period.
The audit also alleged that Hall, 38, of Baker, made illegal payments to Medicaid recipients, kept false records and funneled the ill-gotten money into other businesses, thereby violating the Louisiana Racketeering Act, the state Attorney General’s Office said in June 2014 when Hall and eight others were indicted by an East Baton Rouge Parish grand jury.
The racketeering count to which Hall pleaded guilty involved the theft of $1.1 million from the state, the Attorney General’s Office said Tuesday.
“Our state’s taxpayers work hard and deserve better than fraud, waste and abuse,” Attorney General Jeff Landry said. “I will investigate, apprehend and prosecute those who illegally use our tax dollars.”
Hall’s attorney, Gail Ray, said she believes the use of the racketeering statute in Hall’s case was a stretch.
“It’s not what you think of when you think of racketeering,” she said.
Hall was accused of using some of the Medicaid fraud proceeds to start a hair care business, which got her in trouble with the state’s racketeering law, Ray pointed out.
Hall, who pleaded guilty Monday on the day she was set for trial, is free on bail. Her sentencing before state District Judge Beau Higginbotham is June 14. The state dismissed charges of Medicaid fraud, filing false public records, fraudulent remuneration, and conspiracy to commit Medicaid fraud and racketeering against her.
Three of Hall’s co-defendants also have entered guilty pleas in the case, including Lillie and Weston Evans, 62 and 57, respectively, both of Baton Rouge, and Shirley Horton, 79, of Ethel, the oldest of the nine defendants.
The Evanses pleaded guilty to fraudulent remuneration. Horton pleaded guilty to misdemeanor theft.
The remaining defendants are Tamara Despenza, 30, and Sherman Brickley, 42, both of Zachary; Chiquita Brown, 36, and Jerritt Bowie, 42, both of Baker; and St. Theresa Boulanger, 68, of Baton Rouge. Despenza was a biller and direct service worker. Brickley, Brown and Bowie were direct service workers. The Evanses, Boulanger and Horton were Medicaid recipients. Boulanger also was a company employee.