A Harlingen man was sentenced Wednesday to a 15-year prison sentence in connection with his role in a healthcare scheme that involved telling patients they were terminally ill, records show.
The sentencing for Henry McInnis, 50, on Wednesday comes nearly 15 months after a federal jury found him guilty of nearly 10 counts related to a scheme to submit more than $150 million in false and fraudulent claims for hospice and other health care services, court records show.
McInnis, as the chief executive officer for Merida Group, falsely told patients they had mere months to live which resulted in increased revenue for the company by enrolling them in hospice programs for which they were not qualified nor needed, the release from the Southern District of Texas U.S. Attorney’s office states.
McInnis was found guilty of conspiracy to commit money laundering, obstruction of justice and six counts of healthcare fraud.
McInnis’s co-conspirator and owner of the hospice and home health entities, Rodney Mesquias, 50, of San Antonio, was also convicted following the trial in 2019.
Mesquias was sentenced to a 20-year prison sentence, records show.
“McInnis, as CEO of the company, directly oversaw a reprehensible criminal scheme that involved the submission of over $150 million in fraudulent bills, the falsification of patients’ medical records, and the payment of unlawful kickbacks,” acting Assistant Attorney General Nicholas L. McQuaid, of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, said.
“The defendant preyed upon some of the most vulnerable members of our society, including many who suffered from diminished mental capacity and who were falsely and cruelly told by co-conspirators that they had only months to live,” McQuaid added.
The scheme purportedly ran for nearly 10 years, from 2009 through 2018, court records show.
“Families seek to give comfort and support to their ailing loved ones when all other medical options are gone,” special agent Christopher Combs of the FBI’s San Antonio Field Office said.
“It is unconscionable and evil to prey upon the most vulnerable in our community to commit fraud against government-funded programs,” Combs said.
According to evidence presented at trial, McInnis, Mesquias and Merida Group adopted a strategy to market their hospice programs as providing medical benefits “you don’t have to die to use.”
According to court records, and through testimony revealed at trial, Merida Group marketers falsely told patients they had less than six months to live. They even sent chaplains to the patients based on the false pretense they were near death. The chaplains would discuss last rites and other preparations for imminent death with the patients.
“Not only were some of the patients not expected to die within that time frame, they were walking, driving, working and, in some instances, even coaching athletic sporting events,” the release states.
Despite this, McInnis and his co-conspirators kept patients on hospice services for multiple years in order to increase revenue from Medicare — patients on such palliative hospice care meant the patients were unable to obtain medical coverage for curative medical services.
In addition to placing unqualified patients on hospice care, McInnis and his co-conspirators also kept alive patients for their own financial gain — this included in providing surgical and other medical procedures meant to keep the patient alive longer.
McInnis had no medical training and worked previously as an electrician but acted as the de facto director of nursing for the Merida Group, the release states.
“Witnesses at trial testified McInnis directed employees to admit unqualified patients to hospice and home health, keep unqualified patients on services for long periods of time and fired and reprimanded employees who refused to participate in the scheme,” the attorney’s office release states.
McInnis was also ordered to pay a monetary judgment of nearly $200,000, records show.