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Post date: July 30 2007

Cuomo Seeks $8.8 Million From Westchester Medicaid Frauds

ALBANY, NY (July 30, 2007) – Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo today announced two significant actions in Westchester County: a Somers couple was arrested for money laundering in connection with a $2.8 million Medicaid fraud for which they are already under indictment; and a Scarsdale former nursing home owner was sentenced to prison time, criminal restitution, and civil damages for stealing millions over several years.

In the first case, Robert Alonso, 46, and his wife Emilia Alonso, 47, of Hallocks Run, Somers, were arrested July 18 and arraigned on felony complaints that included Money Laundering in the Second Degree, a class C felony. They are accused of making financial transactions and filing false financial disclosure statements in an effort to hide assets from the courts. In addition to the criminal proceedings, Attorney General Cuomo is pursuing a civil suit against the Alonsos.

“The calculated, sustained nature of this crime and the amount of money this couple stole goes far beyond a simple criminal matter,” said Attorney General Cuomo. “Now that the damage has been contained, we will pursue damages for their intent to rip off New York’s taxpayers.”

According to their indictment for Grand Larceny, Emilia Alonso fraudulently billed Medicaid for services her husband, a dentist, either did not provide, or which he provided while he was working on salary at another care center, therefore making him ineligible for payment through Medicaid. These included routine services such as cleanings and x-rays, as well as major procedures like gingivectomies and oral surgeries. In addition, bills were submitted to Medicaid for dates when Robert was out of the country and traveling to locations including New Zealand, Fiji, Tahiti, Switzerland, and Spain. These findings were the basis for the first indictment.

Further investigation discovered that during the course of the initial investigation, Emilia Alonso withdrew $828,817 from one bank account and deposited the same amount into another account at a different, foreign-based bank, which she later tried to put in their 18-year-old son’s name. Both Robert Alonso and Emilia Alonso would later omit the $828,817 from sworn statements of their total assets. When confronted with this discrepancy, the Alonsos claimed they had donated the money to charities located in the Dominican Republic and Argentina. Letters they submitted as evidence of such transactions turned out to be bogus.

A complaint was filed on the basis of this evidence, and the Alonsos were once again arrested and arraigned. They are currently awaiting their next court date.

The case is being prosecuted by Special Assistant Attorney General Thom O’Hanlon of the Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit Pearl River Regional Office, under the supervision of Deputy Regional Director Anne Schaible Jardine of the Pearl River Regional Office, First Assistant Attorney General Peter Bloch and Special Deputy Attorney General Heidi Wendel, Chief of the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit. Special Investigator Dennis Johnston, Senior Special Investigator Frank Bluszcz, Principal Special Auditor Investigator Jean Moss, Associate Special Auditor Investigator Sandra Iskowitz and Associate Special Auditor Investigator Sandra Alvarez contributed to the investigation. The civil suit is being handled by Special Assistant Attorney General Paul J. Mahoney, Chief of the Civil Enforcement Unit.

In the second case, Abe Zelmanowicz, 53, of Scarsdale, New York, the former owner of Eastchester Health Care Center and Split Rock Multi Care Center, was sentenced to 2 to 6 years in prison and paid $2.5 million in criminal restitution and civil damages for fraudulently billing Medicaid. He must pay $3.5 million more over the course of a three-year period. Zelmanowicz appeared before Albany County Court Judge Thomas Breslin.

“This individual fraudulently billed Medicaid to line his own pockets, at the expense of New York taxpayers,” said Attorney General Cuomo. “Laws regarding Medicaid reimbursement are meant to prevent abuse, and my office will continue to enforce them.”

From 1997 to 2003, Zelmanowicz caused bills to be submitted Medicaid that fraudulently claimed his nursing homes were entitled to payments for reserving or “holding” residents’ beds during periods when the residents were temporarily hospitalized.

Under New York State law, nursing homes are allowed to temporarily bill Medicaid for “bed holds” only when the nursing home is at 95% occupancy and the resident lived in the nursing home for at least 30 days before his/her hospitalization. Zelmanowicz’s homes did not meet the requirements for “bed hold” reimbursement.

Zelmanowicz and the companies that ran his nursing homes were indicted in 2006 on one count of Grand Larceny in the First Degree and multiple counts of Offering a False Instrument for Filing in the First Degree. He was also charged with submitting claims that fraudulently represented Medicaid patients at his facilities were receiving ventilator treatment, when in fact they were not.

Zelmanowicz and his partner, Rebecca Rich, of Purchase, sold the nursing homes in September 2002. The current owners of the nursing homes cooperated with the Attorney General’s investigation and were not accused of any misconduct.

Special Assistant Attorneys General Gilbert Epstein and Thom O’Hanlon of the Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit’s Pearl River Regional Office prosecuted the case under the supervision of Deputy Regional Director Anne Schaible Jardine, First Assistant Attorney General Peter Bloch and Special Deputy Attorney General Heidi Wendel, Chief of the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit. Special Investigators Tim Connolly and Jeffrey Pitts, Supervising Auditor Investigator Jean Moss, and Associate Auditor Investigator David Lee conducted the investigation.