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Pittsfield Man Among Caretakers Charged With Defrauding State Medical System

BOSTON – A personal care attendant (PCA) and four PCA surrogates have been charged with allegedly defrauding the state's Medicaid program of more than $230,000 by falsely billing for services not rendered and double billing in a number of different cases, Attorney General Maura Healey announced today.

Among those indicted is Frederick Phillips, 55, of Pittsfield, who allegedly stole $47,000 from MassHealth by double-billing for PCA and adult foster care services simultaneously between March 2011 and November 2013. Phillips was the PCA surrogate for his disabled brother.

The matter was referred by MassHealth after it received information that Phillips was both the PCA surrogate and AFC caretaker for his brother and purposely participated in and billed for both programs, in violation of MassHealth regulations.

A Berkshire County Grand Jury returned the indictment on Feb. 10.

Phillips was indicted on one count of Medicaid false claims and one count of larceny over $250 by false pretenses. He was arraigned in Berkshire Superior Court on Wednesday, Feb. 17, when he pleaded not guilty to the charges and was released on personal recognizance. Phillips is due back in court on May 2 for a pre-trial hearing.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant Attorney General Evelyn Tang and was investigated by Senior Investigator Michael Russo and Investigator April Waterhouse, all of Healey's Medicaid Fraud Division, with assistance from U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Inspector General (HHS-OIG).

A total of 18 indictments were returned by Plymouth, Berkshire, Essex, and Worcester County grand juries and are the result of criminal investigations conducted by Healey's Medicaid Fraud Division. A criminal complaint, including charges of neglecting a disabled person, has also been issued against a PCA who will be arraigned in Boston Municipal Court on March 2.

The cases include allegations of billing MassHealth for services that were not provided, double billing for PCA and adult foster care (AFC) services, and charging for home care when a patient was hospitalized, along with several other schemes.

"MassHealth provides critical healthcare services for people who otherwise cannot afford them," said Healey in a statement. "We allege that these individuals exploited this system and defrauded taxpayers, while at the same time diverting resources from those in need."

The MassHealth PCA Program helps people with chronic or long-term disabilities live independently. The program provides funds to pay PCAs who help patients with activities of daily living while members receiving the services act as the PCA's employer. By regulation, PCA services cannot be provided while a MassHealth member is admitted to an inpatient facility or nursing home.

MassHealth members who are unable to manage the hiring, training and firing of PCAs themselves may pick a "surrogate" to act for them (typically a family member or legal guardian). MassHealth does not allow surrogates to provide PCA services, and does not pay them to act as surrogates.

The other individuals charged are:

Crystal Clark, 36, of Haverhill; indicted by an Essex County Grand Jury for allegedly she submitting fraudulent timesheets as the PCA surrogate for her disabled son. Authorities allege that she billed MassHealth more than $64,000 for services that were not provided.

Mary Yost, 53, of Middleborough; indicted by a Plymouth County Grand Jury for allegedly double-billing MassHealth for more than $86,000 by billing for PCA and AFC services given to her disabled son simultaneously between May 2009 and April 2014.

Scott Gibeault, 49, of Southbridge; indicted by a Worcester for allegedly submitting fraudulent timesheets indicating PCA services were provided by individuals who were out of state, working other jobs, or unable to provide service because the consumer was admitted to an inpatient facility.

Tamekha Lewis-Sturrup, 29, of Dorchester; a criminal complaint was issued against her in Boston Municipal Court  for allegedly fraudulently billing for approximately $8,600 in PCA services not rendered and for failing to provide services to a consumer resulting in hospitalization.


Death of 11-Year-Old Hannah Nazareth Still a Mystery

Staff Reports
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The cause of 11-year-old Hannah Nazareth's death may never be known.
District Attorney David Capeless' office said on Monday that the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner was unable to determine a cause of death because of the condition of her body.
The bodies of Hannah and her father, Anthony Nazareth, 52, were found inside their third-floor apartment at 72 Plunkett St. on Aug. 3. 
The autopsy showed that Anthony Nazareth died of a heroin overdose just days before his body was discovered. The results showed Hannah died "as much as a month before her father." 
"Followup conversations with the Chief Medical Examiner's Office indicated that the lack of definitive results was due in great part to the decomposition of Hannah's body. Additionally, in the case of Hannah, no significant external trauma was noted and the results of toxicology testing was unremarkable," reads a report for Capeless' office. 
Anthony Nazareth is also said to have provided false and misleading information about his daughter's whereabouts to different agencies during the month of July. However, none of those agencies followed up to determine if the 11-year-old was safe and healthy.
"Hannah Nazareth was failed by a number of people. While there is no indication that different action may have saved her, her dignity in death was not honored and questions will always remain about how, and why, she died," Capeless said in a statement.
The investigation did lead to the arrest of 52-year-old Michael Blowe for allegedly stealing from the apartment the day before police discovered the body. 
Blowe was arrested over the weekend and had not-guilty pleas entered on his behalf in Central Berkshire District Court on single counts of breaking and entering in the daytime, and larceny from a building. Judge Thomas Estes ordered that he be held at the Berkshire County House of Correction on $1,000 bail. 
Blowe is accused of stealing a television, DVD player, clothing, food and a ballet belonging to Anthony Nazareth on Aug. 2, 2015.

Fire Displaces Five Pittsfield Residents

Staff Reports
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — A Thursday night fire caused nearly $10,000 worth of damage to a Worthington Street home.
Deputy Fire Chief Daniel Garner said the department received a report at 7:43 p.m. of a basement fire at 10-12 Worthington Street, located near the intersection of West Housatonic Street and Center Street. The fire displaced five residents from the two-family home but nobody was injured.
Garner estimates some $8,000 to $10,000 worth of damage. 
On arrival, firefighters found fire encompassing a small room in the laundry area in the rear portion of the cellar.
"Engine 3 mounted an aggressive attack with a 1-3/4 inch handline, knocking down the main body of the fire within minutes," Garner wrote in a statement.
Firefighters from Engine 1 secured a water supply and assisted with a secondary attack line. Engine-5 searched the whole building to see if the blaze extended elsewhere — finding it had breached into a bedroom. The extending fire was extinguished. Tower 1 ventilated the structure and Engine 6 stood by on alert. 
"The fire was under control within 45 minutes. City building, wiring, and health inspectors arrived. Eversource and Berkshire Gas shut down service to the building until repairs can be made," Garner wrote. "A total of five occupants were displaced by this blaze."
Garner says fire damage was confided to 25 percent of the basement and there was "moderate" smoke damage to the first and second floors. The cause of the fire is being investigated by Pittsfield Fire Department and the state fire marshal's office. 

Pittsfield Police: Eight Robberies In Six Weeks

Staff Reports
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The city is averaging more than one armed robbery per week for the last month and a half.
Police say there have been eight armed robberies since November 23, 2015, seven of which are still unsolved.
The stores robbed include Angelina's on West Housatonic Street,  an Empire Pizza delivery driver on Parker Street, the Gulf Station on Wahconah Street, Zuke's Variety on West Street, the Getty on Elm Street, Greylock Federal Credit Union on Upper North Street, the Salvation Army on Dalton Avenue, and Dawes Avenue Variety.
"With the exception of one case (robbery of Zuke's store on 12/10/15, in which 30-year-old Ivy Rogers of Pittsfield was arrested and charged, these are all active investigations," Police Chief Michael Wynn wrote in a release issued on Friday. 
The chief says the staffing levels and call volume "do not allow for increased patrols or presence at this time" but that beat officers "are making it a point in between calls to be visible and conduct patrols in and around businesses."
Wynn said units within the patrol division would typically execute specialized patrols and have been given additional tasks related to solving the open robbery cases. Other units — such as detectives and investigators — have picked up additional duties aimed to prevent more robberies as well as investigating the cases.
While there are some commonalities in the robberies, it appears that most are separate investigations, Wynn wrote.
"Beyond race or sex, none of the descriptions of any of the suspects in the seven open cases closely matches any other case. In other words, they appear to have been committed by seven separate sets of suspects," Wynn wrote.  
"That being said, eyewitness information in these cases has not been particularly strong.  It does now appear that one of the seven cases in Pittsfield does appear to be linked to a similar robbery that occurred on Jan. 7, 2016 in South Hadley."
Some of the details included that most were places of business — with only one being a delivery driver; three involved knives and four involved handguns; there are six male suspects and one female suspect (one woman already arrested in the Zuke's Variety case); three were white males, two were black males, two (one male, one female) were of unknown race; three of them occurred during the 5 p.m. hour, two during the 7 p.m. hour, one during the 11 p.m. hour — a total six happening during the evening shift — and one at 2 in the afternoon; in four cases the victims were alone, in three there were multiple people present; no victims were injured; and the locations do not appear to be in any geographical pattern.
In wake of the rash of robberies, the Police Department issued the following tips to businesses and individuals:
  • Increase vigilance when nearing closing hours (when customer traffic is low).
  • Increase awareness of persons/vehicles loitering in the area, and call the police if suspicious.
  • Increase staff at closing and evening hours so that there is not one employee alone during these times.
  • Install surveillance and security systems.
  • Do not do anything to place yourself in harm.  Comply with all demands.
  • Immediately close your business, and lock your doors.  Call 911 before calling anyone else.
  • Be the best witness you can be.  After calling 911, write down details of the suspect. If there is more than one victim, do not share details amongst yourselves first.
Anyone with information regarding these cases is encouraged to call the Detective Bureau at 448-9705.

Pittsfield Police Restructures Command Staff

Staff Reports
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Police Department is restructuring its command staff following the retirement of Capt. Patrick Barry.
Barry is a 27-year veteran of the force and announced his retirement from the department effective Jan. 3. He was the commander of the detective bureau for 15 years. He was briefly appointed acting chief at one point. Despite his retirement, he will remain in the profession as the chief of police in another community.
With his position open, the department is making a number of changes to top positions, which be be in place in the next few days.
"Captain Barry's departure led to an opportunity for internal discussion and some personnel assignment changes," Police Chief Michael Wynn wrote. 
Capt. David Granger will take over command of the administrative services division as of Sunday, Jan. 10. He will assume responsibility for records, procurement, and human resources. He will also be the department's primary public information officer. 
Granger has been with the department for 31 years with the last 10 being the commander of the uniformed patrol division. Prior to that, he worked as a supervisor in both the detective bureau and the the drug unit as well as the patrol supervisor. 
Capt. John Mullin, the current commander of the administrative services division, will switch with Granger to become the division commander of the uniformed patrol division. He will be in charge of all patrol functions, traffic, K9, and special events. He also will be the department's liaison to the Traffic Commission, the Pittsfield Community Connect program, and the Elizabeth Freeman Center. He assumes the new job on Sunday, Jan. 10.
Mullin has been with the department for 29 years with the last eight being the commander of the administrative services division. Prior to that, he was shift commander and patrol supervisor in the uniformed patrol division. 
Lt. Michael Grady will be interim commander of the detective bureau — filling the vacancy left by Barry's retirement. Grady has been with the department for 21 years and has most recently been the detective lieutenant — second in command — on the evening shift. He takes over the commander position on Sunday, Jan. 10. He assumes command of the detective bureau, drug unit, and crime scene services pending completion of a formal civil service promotional process. 
"The department's senior commanders have spent between five and 15 years in their current assignments. While each division commander assignment places various requirements and demands on the commander, they all present significant challenges, time commitments, and personal investment. Captain Barry's departure has presented us with an opportunity to make some changes, mix things up, and interject some fresh perspective into our organization and operations," Wynn wrote. 
"We wish Chief Barry well in his new endeavors, and I'm looking forward to the energy that these new assignments will bring to the Department."
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