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Indictment accuses eight of defrauding government

They are charged in a scheme to submit false Medicare and Medicaid claims and to launder money.

By GRAHAM BRINK, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 25, 2002


TAMPA -- Eight people are facing various charges for their roles in a scheme that bilked $25.7-million from Medicare and Medicaid, according to a federal indictment released Thursday.

The 55-count indictment outlines a plan to launder money, and accuses the defendants of selling medical equipment fraudulently.

Barry D. Haught, 48, and Ernest L. Sleeth, 46, both of Tampa, owned or controlled the companies used in the scheme, companies such as DBB Inc., G.S. Care Corp., Gold Star Healthcare Inc. and Med-Care Distributors, the indictment said. The two men face charges of conspiracy, false claims and money laundering. They could not be reached for comment.

In 1998, the government sued to recover some of the money. Agents froze some of Haught's assets and he was ordered not to submit any fraudulent claims. Last year, he was charged with obstruction of justice and money laundering after authorities said he and others filed false claims.

The latest indictment stems from the same investigation.

Also charged Thursday were Fred D. Ford, 38, of Tampa; Renee LaChance Hunter Livio, 37, of New Port Richey; Teresa Martinez, 39, of Tampa; Cherry E. Moody, 34, of New Orleans; Thomas W. Nespeca, 51, of Odessa; and Chistopher C. Stursberg, 42, of Lutz.

According to the indictment, Haught and Sleeth organized the scam in the mid-90s using the group of companies they secretly owned. A sales corps swept through poor neighborhoods in the Tampa Bay area, among other places, asking Medicare recipients if they wanted equipment such as hospital beds or pressurized mattresses.

A recurring scheme, the indictment said, was to promise customers electric scooters that cost the government $500, then bill the government for motorized wheelchairs that cost up to $10,000. Some customers who received high priced scooters or wheelchairs had no medical necessity for the devices, court documents said.

They also faked doctor prescriptions and other medical records or paid kickbacks to doctors who would certify that patients needed equipment when in reality it wasn't medically necessary, the indictment said. After receiving payment from Medicare or Medicaid, the defendants laundered some of the proceeds through offshore bank accounts, the indictment said.

Charged in separate cases with making false claims or taking kickbacks in the scheme were Dennis E. Rodriguez, 54, of Odessa; John C. Merlino, 43, of Tampa; and John S. Bidelspach, 38, of Palm Harbor.

-- Contact Graham Brink at (813) 226-3365 or brink@sptimes.com.

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