Sept. 21--ABINGDON, Va. -- Former Saltville Rescue Squad President Eddie Wayne Louthian buried his face in his hands and cried moments after hearing he was convicted on federal health care fraud charges Thursday morning.
After deliberating for more than six hours, a jury declared him guilty of masterminding a scheme to bilk Medicare and private insurer Anthem BlueCross BlueShield out of nearly $1 million by having an ambulance chauffeur three patients to dialysis and back home for years.
Jurors exonerated his co-defendant, the squad as a corporation, of similar charges.
Prosecutors spent nearly two weeks showing how the volunteer squad's patients, though sick, could walk and drive on their own despite squad documentation declaring them stretcher-bound. Medicare and the private insurer allow for a non-emergency transport only if the patient is bedridden.
Louthian, found guilty of seven counts of health care fraud and perjury before a grand jury, now faces as many as 45 years in prison and will be sentenced Dec. 20. He was found not guilty of two counts of money laundering.
The squad's acquittal seemed to have spared the town of Saltville from having to scramble to find a new ambulance service. For months, local and state officials speculated over whether a federal freeze on the squad's bank account would decimate the rescue group in the face of a conviction.
Prosecutors had hoped to use land, bank funds and some emergency vehicles to recoup $880,000 in lost Medicare payments. Moments after the verdict, squad attorney R. Wayne Austin convinced U.S. District Judge James P. Jones to lift the freeze.
Despite Jones' order, prosecutors might be able to enforce the freeze again. Assistant U.S. Attorney Janine Myatt argued that the initial seizure order for the assets, filed in February, connected the property to Louthian as much as it did to the squad.
Still, Jones questioned the prosecution's ability to seize anything from the squad in the face of a jury's declaration of not guilty.
"To seek to forfeit the property of a defendant that has been acquitted?" the judge asked. "I express my skepticism of the government's motion."
Both the prosecution and defense are to submit memorandums arguing their case over the forfeiture next week.
On Monday, former squad member Monica Jane Hicks will be sentenced for her June guilty plea to a single count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud.
(c)2012 the Bristol Herald Courier (Bristol, Va.)
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