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L.A. pastor gets 15 years in a $14.2 million Medicare fraud scheme

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 10:37 PM EST, Mon January 9, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Christopher Iruke, 61, was the pastor at a now-defunct L.A. church
  • He also ran medical supply companies, paying for illicit prescriptions and documents
  • He submitted $14.2 million in fraudulent claims and got $6.7 million in reimbursements
  • He was convicted in August, along with his wife, one other conspirator

(CNN) -- A 61-year-old man was sentenced Monday to 15 years in federal prison for helping engineer a $14.2 million Medicare fraud, including hiring parishioners at the church he co-lead to help with the scheme, the federal government said.

Christopher Iruke was convicted in August -- along with his wife, Connie Ikpoh, and one of their employees, Aura Marroquin -- of conspiracy and health care fraud.

Besides the prison time, U.S. District Judge Terry Hatter on Monday ordered Iruke to pay back $6.7 million with his conspirators and serve three years of "supervised release" once he gets out of prison, the U.S. Justice Department said in a news release.

He and Ikpoh were charged in October 2009 with bilking Medicare by fraudulently billing the government for electric wheelchairs and other expensive medical equipment.

At the time, the two were both pastors at a now-defunct Los Angeles church, the Arms of Grace Christian Church. Ikpoh also worked as a nurse at Southern California hospitals.

They ran one of their fraudulent companies, Pascon Medical Supply, from the church. Another -- Horizon Medical Equipment -- was owned by Ikpoh.

At last year's trial, jurors heard evidence that Iruke bought fraudulent prescriptions and documents that the three used to bill Medicare for equipment that were either "medically unnecessary or never provided," the Justice Department said. For instance, they billed Medicare about $6,000 for a power wheelchair that actually costs closer to $900.

Under threat of an audit by Medicare, Iruke persuaded his sister and one of his parishioners to open two new medical supply firms in their names. These were run after the other two companies, Pascon and Horizon, ceased operations.

During the trial, witnesses said that "they and others paid cash kickbacks to street-level marketers to offer Medicare beneficiaries free (devices and equipment) in exchange for the beneficiaries' Medicare card numbers and personal information." This data was used to make fraudulent prescriptions and medical documents, which they then sold to Iruke and others.

Iruke told two of his employees, including Marroquin, to lie to state and federal inspectors and also urged them to talk on cell phones in hopes of evading law enforcement, witnesses said at the trial.

In total, the federal government said that the conspirators submitted $14.2 million in fraudulent Medicare claims and got about $6.7 million in reimbursements.

Marroquin was sentenced in December to time served and three years of supervised release, while Ikpoh will be sentenced February 27.

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