Healthcare group employees found guilty on conspiracy charges

Three former employees of Merida Healthcare Group were found guilty on multiple charges including conspiracy to commit healthcare fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering and obstruction of justice in a federal court in Brownsville on Wednesday.

Rodney Masques, Henry McInnis, and Francisco Pena were three of the four former executives and management-level employees originally indicted in the $153 million Medicare fraud case.

Merida was accused of illegally billing Medicare more than $153 million for unqualified hospice beneficiaries, resulting in $120 million in profits over the course of nearly a decade.

According to the 27-page indictment issued by a grand jury on Jan. 9, 2018, Mesques owned and controlled Merida and its affiliated entities, while McInnis served as the company’s chief executive officer. Pena, a former mayor of Rio Bravo, was a licensed physician and served as Merida’s Medical Director in the Laredo Area.

A fourth defendant, Jose Garza, served as the operations manager at Merida and pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit healthcare fraud in exchange for a lesser sentence. He took the stand to testify against his former colleagues during the three-week long trial.

On Oct. 31, Garza testified that he was ordered to direct employees to market Medicare hospice benefits to patients who were not sick or dying, and to approve every patient who applied for the program regardless of their eligibility for the program.

His testimony included allegations that he was instructed by Mesques to pick up a motorized wheelchair for a patient who was going to revoke his hospice benefits, and that he received complaints from chaplains who arrived at homes to give rites only to realize that the patients were not terminally ill.

Court documents noted that Mesques and McInnis used the profits to purchase multiple luxury vehicles, San Antonio Spurs tickets, expensive jewelry, designer clothing, exclusive real estate, and exotic vacations.

Mesques and McInnis were found guilty on seven counts of conspiring to defraud Medicare, while Pena was found guilty of two counts. Both Masques and McInnis were found guilty on one count of attempting to obstruct a federal grand jury investigation.

Additionally, both Masques and Pena were found guilty on one count of conspiracy to pay and receive kickbacks. All three men were found guilty on one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering.

Pena received a separate guilty verdict on one count of attempting to “willfully prevent” the communication of information to the FBI and one count of making false statements to the agency.

Mesques, McInnis, and Pena were taken into custody instead of remaining out on bond pending sentencing. A detention hearing was rescheduled for Nov. 18 at 1:30 p.m.