Guilty verdict reached in $150 million health care fraud scheme

A former Texas mayor and two others associated with a health care company were found guilty in November for their roles in a $150 million health care fraud scheme.

According to a report from the U.S. Department of Justice, Rodney Mesquias of San Antonio, Henry McInnis of Harlingen, and Francisco Pena of Laredo were all found guilty of health care fraud, conspiracy to commit health care fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering. The case was investigated by the Rio Grande Valley Health Care Fraud Task Force, which includes the OIG, the FBI, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission and the Texas Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit.

Mesquias and McInnis were also found guilty of conspiracy to obstruct justice and conspiracy to pay and receive kickbacks. Pena was also convicted of false statements and obstruction of health care investigations.

The report stated that Mesquias owned and controlled the Merida Group, which had dozens of locations across Texas. McInnis was the CEO; Pena, a licensed physician, was Merida Group’s medical director as well as the mayor of Rio Bravo at the time.

The Justice Department says the Merida Group targeted patients with long-term incurable diseases, such as Alzheimer's and dementia. Investigators said the defendants enrolled the patients at group homes and nursing homes by falsely telling them they had less than six months to live and sending chaplains to lie to them and discuss last rites. However, the patients did not have terminal illnesses with the six-month prognosis that hospice care requires.

Sentencing is scheduled for June 17.