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Los Angeles—Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. today announced the arrests of six former employees of New Beginnings Recovery Treatment Center Inc., a Los Angeles-based drug and alcohol rehabilitation center, who “stole tens of thousands of dollars” from Medi-Cal by billing the state for drug treatment sessions that were never performed.
The six individuals were arrested today on charges of felony grand theft and filing false Medi-Cal claims. The maximum sentence for conviction on both felonies is three years in state prison. Bail has been set at $68,000 for Tatyana Yakovenko and at $40,000 for the other five defendants.
“These individuals stole tens of thousands of dollars from the state’s alcohol and drug treatment programs,” Brown said. “In this time of economic crisis, it’s brazen and offensive that these individuals chose to rip off public health programs instead of helping substance abusers get their lives together.”
Between July 1, 2005 and May 30, 2009, New Beginnings owner Tatyana Yakovenko and her associates submitted 1,642 fraudulent claims totaling more than $68,000 to the California Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs (ADP.)
Under a contract established with the Los Angeles County Alcohol and Drug Programs Administration, New Beginnings provided alcohol and drug treatment services to Medi-Cal patients. Certified as a Substance Abuse Clinic in January 2002, New Beginnings operated four treatment centers in Los Angeles County.
In late 2008, Brown’s office launched an investigation into allegations that New Beginnings was submitting false Medi-Cal claims to ADP.
Brown’s investigation found that New Beginnings owner Tatyana Yakovenko and five members of the center’s upper management required therapists and group counselors to “ghost write” counseling sessions that were never performed and forge group therapy sign-in sheets. The investigation uncovered that as many as half of the Medi-Cal claims filed by New Beginnings were fraudulent.
The investigation also revealed that several patients who were enrolled in the program did not have a drug problem, and many of their drug tests were fabricated to ensure continued and unnecessary treatment. New Beginnings employees enticed adult Medi-Cal beneficiaries to enroll in the organization’s drug counseling program by offering cigarettes, food, and assistance with Section 8 housing qualification.
The majority of treatment and group notes were stored on computers, which made it easy to cut and paste and change the names of the clients. Counselors were instructed to occasionally create a “crisis,” which meant a dirty drug test or a situation that warranted a client’s continued drug treatment.
Additionally, investigators determined that some counselors were ordered to enter treatment records for 120 clients when only 40 clients were actually receiving treatment. The average client had four treatment group activities per month, but counselors were pushed to increase the documentation to 20 activities per month.
The six individuals arrested today on charges of felony grand theft and filing false Medi-Cal claims include:
• Tatyana Yakovenko, 35, of Beverly Hills,
• Natalya Zvereva, 34, of Sherman Oaks,
• Carlos Villanueva, 38, of Pico Rivera,
• Aleksey Lisitsa, 27, of Los Angeles,
• Jodee A. Wallace, 41, of Granada Hills; and,
• Romalis Conway, 29, of Los Angeles
Earlier this month, Brown announced his office recovered more than $209 million and secured 139 criminal convictions by aggressively investigating and prosecuting Medi-Cal fraud cases in 2009. Brown also reported that in 2009, his Bureau of Medi-Cal Fraud and Elder Abuse returned more than $12 million to victims of elder abuse and secured 47 criminal convictions in elder abuse cases.
Copies of the felony complaint and arrest warrant affidavits are attached.