Hospice executive sentenced to prison for health care fraud

The owner of a Texas chain of hospice companies has been sentenced to 20 years in federal prison for his role in a $150 million health care scheme.

Rodney Mesquias of San Antonio was found guilty of conspiracy to commit health care fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering, conspiracy to obstruct justice, conspiracy to pay and receive kickbacks, and six counts of health care fraud. His sentence from a federal judge also includes paying $120 million in restitution.

Mesquias owned the Merida Group, which operates dozens of locations across Texas. Henry McInnis of Harlingen was Merida’s CEO. According to a press release from the Department of Justice, 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.

The scheme resulted in $150 million in false and fraudulent claims for hospice and other health care services. It 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’ scheme included paying kickbacks to physicians and fraudulently enrolling vulnerable beneficiaries in hospice care that prevented them from accessing curative care -- all done to steal millions of dollars from Medicare to fund lavish personal spending,” said Special Agent in Charge Miranda L. Bennett, Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General’s Dallas Region. “This victimization is intolerable, and our investigators and law enforcement partners will continue to work hard to bring such criminals to justice and to protect those relying on federal health care programs.”

McInnis will be sentenced at a later date. Two others pleaded guilty and are awaiting sentencing.