Lisa Crinel, a prominent New Orleans businesswoman and former queen of the Zulu Carnival organization, pleaded guilty in federal court Friday to two counts of a sweeping indictment that accused her and others of an audacious rip-off of Medicare that defrauded the program of $30 million.
Joining Crinel in pleading guilty Friday was Threasa Adderley, one of several doctors accused of participating in the scheme. Crinel also entered a guilty plea on behalf of her business, Abide Home Care Services.
Sheila Mathieu, the mother of NFL defensive back and former LSU standout Tyrann Mathieu, also pleaded guilty. Sheila Mathieu, a second former Zulu queen, admitted to a charge of aiding and abetting the theft of government money for her role in the scheme.
Another woman who wasn’t charged in the indictment, Rhonda Maeerry, pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge from a superseding bill of information.
Crinel, 52, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit health care fraud and a kickback conspiracy charge from the 26-count federal indictment handed up in March.
The indictment named 21 people in connection with the fraud. The group includes doctors, nurses and other staffers at the company Crinel owned and operated.
U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan set a Jan. 13 sentencing date for both women and allowed them to remain free until then.
The federal sentencing guideline range for Crinel is 78 to 97 months in prison, and under her deal, Morgan can’t sentence Crinel to more than 97 months, her attorneys said. The maximum sentence she faced under those two counts was 15 years.
Adderley’s sentence under her guilty plea to the kickback scheme is capped at five years, with no minimum. The maximum sentence for Mathieu is a year in prison.
“I am guilty, your honor,” Crinel said Friday in court.
As part of Crinel’s deal, federal prosecutors will drop felony counts against her daughter, Wilneisha Harrison Jakes, Abide’s chief administrative officer, allowing Jakes to plead guilty only to a state misdemeanor.
In a statement, Crinel said she agreed to the plea “because I am in fact guilty, and because I did not want to put the government through the unnecessary expense and trouble of proving this in court. I also pled guilty because I understand that accepting responsibility for the wrongs that I have done is the first step toward correcting them.”
Crinel said she intends to help U.S. Attorney Kenneth Polite’s office “with truthful cooperation in any way I can.”
She called her guilty pleas “a genuine personal turning point, not just a legal one.”
One other person accused in the scheme, licensed practical nurse Evelyn Odoms, pleaded guilty in July to a charge of aiding and abetting health care fraud. Odoms admitted she did not perform services that were billed to the Medicare program.
The Crinel case has attracted attention in part because of the number of defendants and their prominence, including Mathieu.
The indictment describes a scheme that began in late 2008 and ran for seven years, in which Crinel and Jakes paid illegal kickbacks for the recruiting of Medicare beneficiaries so Abide could bill the government for services that were either not medically necessary or never done.
Crinel and Jakes hired “house doctors,” among them Adderley, who signed false care plans for the phony billings. Registered nurses would visit the homes of Medicare beneficiaries to complete bogus diagnoses, the indictment alleges.
The case has featured a couple of unusual twists. Earlier this year, Crinel, who is black, claimed in court documents that the case against her had a racial animus, saying she had received harsher treatment from Polite’s office than a similarly situated white male in an unrelated case.
Morgan rejected the claim.
Crinel also raised questions about search warrants that were approved by U.S. Magistrate Judge Karen Wells Roby that enabled federal agents to raid her business in March 2014.
Roby had a conflict of interest, Crinel claimed, because lawyer Clarence Roby, the magistrate’s husband, had represented Crinel and showed up during the federal raid. Also, she said, she and Clarence Roby were having an affair.
Morgan rejected that argument, finding in July that Crinel offered no evidence the federal judge knew what was going on when she signed the warrants.
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