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CALIFORNIA: Pastor of Los Angeles Church Draws Three-Year Sentence for Fraud

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Pastor Connie Ikpoh, Arms of Grace Christian Center, draws three-year sentence for fraudA Los Angeles woman who served as a church pastor with her husband has been sentenced to three years in federal prison for her role in defrauding Medicare out of more than $14 million, officials said yesterday.

The U.S. attorney’s office said in a statement that 49-year-old Connie Ikpoh was sentenced yesterday. The judge also gave her three years of supervised release and a $6.7 million restitution order. Her co-pastor husband, Christopher Iruke, 61, was sentenced to 15 years in prison and was ordered to pay $6.7 million restitution seven weeks ago by U.S. District Judge Terry Hatter.

Ikpoh, her husband and their employee Aura Marroquin were found guilty of conspiracy and fraud by a federal jury in August.

Prosecutors say the couple hired churchgoers from their Arms of Grace Christian Center on Crenshaw Boulevard to help run a medical supply operation called Pascon Medical Supply at that same location that used phony documents to bill Medicare for power wheelchairs and other health equipment. The wheelchairs cost $900 each, according to the U.S. Attorney, but were billed to Medicare at approximately $6,000 each.

After Pascon attracted official attention due to an audit by Medicare, Ikpoh closed it and opened two other fraudulent medical supply agencies which operated the same way, according the official statement

Witnesses who sold fraudulent prescriptions and documents to Iruke testified that they and others paid cash kickbacks to street-level marketers to offer Medicare beneficiaries free power wheelchairs and other DME in exchange for the beneficiaries’ Medicare card numbers and personal information. These witnesses testified that they and their associates used this information to create fraudulent prescriptions and medical documents which they sold to Iruke and the operators of other fraudulent DME supply companies for $1,100 to $1,500 per prescription, the statement said.

Trial testimony established that Iruke took extensive efforts to conceal the fraud scheme and his involvement with the companies. One witness who worked at the companies testified that Iruke directed her and Marroquin to lie to state and Medicare inspectors about his involvement with Contempo and Ladera when the inspectors visited the companies.

The court found that much of the profit money received by the bogus supply companies went to further the scheme, cover leases on Mercedes automobiles and into  a six-figure home remodeling project for the couple’s house.

Instead of producing the office files subpoenad by federal and state agents, Iruke directed that the files be brought to an auditorium used by Arms of Grace, where Iruke, Ikpoh, Marroquin and others altered and destroyed documents within the files to remove evidence, the statement said. Law enforcement agents testified that they found Marroquin with these files when they later arrested her.

The case was brought as part of the Federal Medicare Fraud Strike Force. The force is supervised by the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section as well as the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California.

http://www.metnews.com/articles/2012/ikpo022812.htm