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Queens doctors and pharmacists slapped with federal charges in nationwide $163M health care fraud scheme

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Several health care professionals from Queens were among 13 people charged on Thursday in Brooklyn and Long Island for bilking Medicare and Medicaid out of millions of dollars in fraudulent claims, prosecutors announced.

According to U.S. Attorney Richard Donoghue, all of the suspects wound up billing the two government-run health care programs for $163 million in claims for unnecessary medical care. In some instances, they allegedly recruited individuals to fill prescriptions or undergo physical or occupational therapy, then provided the purported patients with kickbacks after cashing in on the filed claims.

“As alleged, the defendants charged throughout the Eastern District of New York as part of the nationwide health care takedown abused their positions to enrich themselves, while bilking Medicare and Medicaid,” Donoghue said. “They did so without regard to the elderly and vulnerable citizens whose health depends upon these essential programs.”

Among the arrested individuals was Mayura Kanekar, 43, an occupational therapist from Bayside arrested last July for allegedly conspiring with three other health care professionals to filed more than $100 million in fraudulent Medicare claims out of practices in Brooklyn and Queens.

In the indictment announced on June 28, Kanekar along with three others connected to the practices allegedly paid kickbacks for the referral of patients to their practices. The patients then received unnecessary therapy and other services for which Medicare was billed for more than $116 million. Prosecutors said the cooperating patients later received kickbacks for the participation.

In a separate indictment, Artem Ashirov, 42, of Rego Park, is allegedly accused of bilking Medicare and Medicaid out of $14.9 million through claims submitted between 2015 and 2018 from ABO Pharmacy, which he owns and operates in Brooklyn. According to prosecutors, Ashirov allegedly offered to pay kickbacks to customers for submitting various prescriptions at his pharmacy.

Briarwood resident Yuri Barayev, 43, the owner of Woodhaven Rx Pharmacy located at 62-06 Woodhaven Blvd. in Rego Park, allegedly submitted claims for medications that he never dispensed to patients. Between November 2013 and December 2015, federal agents said, Barayev submitted more than $6.6 million in fraudulent claims.

Federal prosecutors also announced that Young Jun Kim, 48, who operated the defunct My Health Wellness Center in Flushing, allegedly submitted $5.6 million in fraudulent Medicare claims between 2012 and 2015. The government wound up paying him approximately $3.5 million for physical therapy services that Kim either did not provide or were not medically necessary, or did not qualify for Medicare coverage.

Finally, Dr. Harold Bendelstein, 57, of Far Rockaway was charged for allegedly billing Medicare and Medicaid $585,000 in fraudulent claims between January 2014 and February 2018. According to prosecutors, he allegedly claimed that he performed incision procedures on patients’ ears, though an investigation determined that no such procedures occurred.

All of the suspects were booked on a variety of criminal counts including health care fraud, violating the Anti-Kickback Statute, making false claims, money laundering and conspiracy to commit health care fraud.

The nationwide crackdown was conducted by the Medicare Fraud Task Force and resulted in 601 individuals being charged for filing $2 billion in fraudulent claims.

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