Francisco Pena, mayor of Rio Bravo, Texas, has been indicted alongside three other individuals for his alleged role in a $150 million home health care fraud and money laundering scam, according to a memo released by the U.S. Justice Department.
Pena, 82, of Laredo, Texas, was charged in an 11-count indictment with co-conspirators Rodney Mesquias, 47, of San Antonio, Texas; Henry McInnis, 47, of Harlingen, Texas; and Jose Garza, 40, of Harlingen, Texas.
At the time of press, Pena is being held at the Webb County, Texas, jail without bond, according to local media.
Kickbacks for referrals
From 2009 through the filing of the indictment, Mesquias owned and operated Harlingen, Texas-based Merida Health Care Group, a compilation of health care entities that provided hospice and health care services. McInnis and Garza helped control and operate the various entities, while Pena, who is also a licensed physician, served as the medical director of Merida Group.
According to the allegations in the indictment, Mesquias, McInnis and Garza caused kickbacks and bribes to be paid to medical directors, including Pena, for the Merida Group’s affiliated entities in return for certifying that patients qualified for services when they did not, as well as for referring patients for such services.
Among a slew of other allegations, the indictment also alleges that the four individuals also fraudulently kept patients on hospice services for multiple years in order to increase revenue from Medicare, according to the Justice Department.
In regards to Pena, the indictment also states he gave a false statement to the FBI and obstructed health care investigation. In a few incidences, a confidential source from the health care industry met with Pena at city hall and other locations where the source allegedly paid Pena a total of $5,000 in cash kickbacks for illegal referrals of hospice patients. Pena also allegedly told a cooperating witness that, in regards to hospice patients, “the way you make money is by keeping them alive as long as possible.”
Following these events, Pena was interviewed by the FBI and denied accepting kickbacks in exchange for patient referrals. The indictment further alleges that he instructed the confidential source to lie to the FBI in the event he/she was interviewed about the kickbacks he received, according to the Justice Department.
Mesquias, McInnis, Garza and Pena were each charged with one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud, and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering. Mesquias and McInnis were charged with six counts of health care fraud, and Garza and Pena were each charged with one count of health care fraud.
Further, Pena was also charged with one count of false statements and one count of obstruction of a health care investigation. Mesquias and McInnis were each charged with one count of obstruction of justice.
Written by Carlo Calma