Inspections, Compliance, Enforcement, and Criminal Investigations

February 17, 2012: Medical Equipment Sales Rep Pleads Guilty to Federal Charge of Health Care Fraud

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Food and Drug Administration
Office of Criminal Investigations

U.S. Department of Justice Press Release


For Immediate Release
February 17, 2012

United States Attorney
District of Rhode Island
Contact: Jim Martin
(401) 709-5357


Sonja Ascoli of Woonsocket sold medical equipment for Illinois based company that shipped unwanted and unneeded medical supplies to Medicare beneficiaries at government expense

PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Sonja Ascoli, 59, of Woonsocket, R.I., pled guilty in U.S. District Court in Providence today to defrauding the federal Medicare program of more than $70,000, announced United States Attorney Peter F. Neronha.

Ascoli admitted to the court that she participated in a scheme to entice Medicare beneficiaries to order products and medical equipment from the company she represented, Planned Eldercare, in Buffalo Grove, Ill., by promising that products would be provided “at no cost” to them. The Medicare Program does not permit copayments to be waived. Ascoli, who was the highest paid outside sales representative employed by Planned Eldercare between 2007 and 2008, admitted that she defrauded the Medicare program of a total of $70,354. Her salary was paid on a commission basis.

Ascoli, who pled guilty to one count of health care fraud, faces up to 10 years in federal prison when she is sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge William E. Smith on May 4, 2012.

On February 10, 2012, Gary Winner, 50, of Northbrook, Ill., owner of Planned Eldercare, was sentenced in federal court in Providence to 37 months in federal prison for defrauding the Medicare program of more than $2.2 million. In November 2011, Winner pled guilty to two counts of health care fraud, and one count each of money laundering and the introduction of an adulterated and misbranded medical device into interstate commerce. Winner was also ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $2,210,152 to the Medicare program and to pay a fine of $12,500.

At today’s hearing before U.S. District Court Judge William E. Smith, Ascoli admitted that she promised custom fit shoes for diabetics and medical equipment for arthritis sufferers “at no cost” to Medicare beneficiaries at Rhode Island senior centers, housing complexes and assisted living centers.

Ascoli admitted to the court that once she obtained some beneficiaries’ Medicare and physician information, she ordered as many products as possible without regard to whether the beneficiaries actually requested the products or had a medical need for the equipment. When beneficiaries complained about receiving items they did not order, Ascoli admitted that she responded by telling them, “keep the products in the closet until you need them.” When others complained on the beneficiaries’ behalf, she responded, “You know how it is, they forget what they ordered.”

Ascoli also admitted that as part of the scheme, upon receiving products and equipment returned to her by beneficiaries, she did not send the items back to Planned Eldercare, but kept them and gave them to individuals who would not otherwise have qualified for the products. These actions resulted in Medicare paying for products that were not received by beneficiaries and Ascoli keeping any commissions she had earned on the products sold.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S Attorney Dulce Donovan.

The matter was investigated by Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General; the Federal Bureau of Investigation; the Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigations; the United States Railroad Retirement Board, Office of Inspector General; and the Food and Drug Administration, Office of Criminal Investigations.

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