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Two Hidalgo County siblings accused of bilking a federal workers’ compensation program out of $80 million were warned by their own employees about the practice, according to a 24-page indictment unsealed Friday afternoon.
Federal authorities arrested Ricardo Cano, 46, of McAllen, and Rosita Cano Meeks, 56, of Edinburg on Thursday for allegedly billing more hours of physical therapy than actually occurred.
The brother and sister duo made a first appearance in McAllen federal court on Friday afternoon on an 18-count indictment charging them with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and healthcare fraud.
Cano faces an additional seven counts of money laundering.
Federal prosecutors allege the scheme spanned between 2014 and 2019.
Cano, a physician’s assistant who made his employees call him “Dr. Cano,” operated the Texas Federal Wellness Center, which had locations in Brownsville, Corpus Christi, Edinburg, El Paso, Harlingen and McAllen, along with his sister, Meeks, who was in charge of billing, according to the indictment.
That document said Meeks and Cano billed the Department of Labor’s Office of Worker’s Compensation Program for physical therapy services provided to injured federal employees.
Since Cano was not a doctor, he had no authority to provide these services without an actual doctor.
Instead, he entered into an agreement with a Travis County doctor only identified as “Physician 1.”
THEY WERE WARNED
The indictment levies numerous allegations, including the inflated billing for physical therapy that never happened.
“Cano and Meeks caused … employees to falsify patient records to make it appear that patients were at … facilities longer than they actually were,” the indictment stated. “Instead of recording the true check-out time when patients left a … facility, employees were directed to calculate a fictional, inflated check-out time.”
Those employees warned them.
“Cano and Meeks failed to correct the improper practice of inflating and falsely documenting units of physical therapy services despite being warned that the practice was improper by … employees,” the indictment stated.
The siblings also submitted claims for visits that never even happened, according to federal prosecutors.
Additionally, the indictment alleges that Meeks pressured employees to inflate the amount of physical therapy provided to patients to maximize billing.
“Meeks pressured … employees to record the maximum amount of physical therapy services authorized … on patient records in order to inflate the amount (they) could bill …,” the indictment stated. “As a result, (their) employees documented physical therapy services that did not occur, exaggerated and inflated the amount of physical therapy services a patient received, and directed patients to complete unnecessary physical therapy services on un-injured body parts.”
Furthermore, federal prosecutors allege Meeks directed employees to pressure patients to attend physical therapy six days a week regardless if it was medically necessary.
Both siblings are also accused of submitting inflated claims for more expensive medical items, but instead providing their patients with much cheaper items.
“For example, Cano and Meeks caused (the business) to submit a claim … for approximately $998.00 for purportedly providing beneficiary A.S. with a sophisticated, hinged knee brace,” the indictment stated. “Beneficiary A.S., however, was not provided with the expensive knee brace that was billed … . In truth and in fact, beneficiary A.S. was given an inexpensive knee sleeve which retailed for only approximately $20.00.”
There was also a Hidalgo County pharmacy, which is identified as “Pharmacy 1,” that was involved in a kickback scheme with Cano, according to the indictment.
“Cano entered into a kickback relationship with Pharmacy-1, such that ‘Individual-1,’ an individual with whom Cano had a romantic relationship, would receive kickback payments based on a percentage of revenue generated by Pharmacy-1 from prescriptions ordered for patients … .”
The indictment also spells out allegations from federal prosecutors that Cano controlled the business, not “Physician 1.”
THE FAKE DOCTOR
While Cano controlled and managed the operations, controlled the bank accounts, served as the president and received the profits, on paper it was “Physician 1” who controlled everything.
“Meanwhile, Physician-1 had virtually no substantive role in the management, operation, or control of the (business) and rarely, if ever, visited the … clinics,” the indictment stated. “In truth and in fact, “Physician-1 sold his medical license to Cano, who used the license to operate the … medical facilities without appropriate medical supervision.”
By 2017, someone filed a complaint with the Texas Medical Board against the business and Cano, which was eventually dismissed through deceit, according to federal prosecutors.
“Cano and Physician-1 falsely represented to the Texas Medical Board that (the business) had been brought into compliance with Texas law when, in truth and in fact, the (facilities) were at all times operated in violation of Texas law,” the indictment stated. “As a result of the deception by Cano and Physician-1, and the submission of the false and fraudulent records, the Texas Medical Board dismissed the complaint relating to the … entities.”
FORFEITURE AND ARRAIGNMENT
Federal prosecutors are also seeking the forfeiture of several vehicles, including three Mercedes Benz vehicles from 2019, 2018 and 2016, along with a 2016 BMW, a 2018 Ford Edge and a 2021 Jeep Gladiator Rubicon.
They are also seeking the forfeiture of properties in Harlingen, Brownsville, South Padre Island, El Paso, Edinburg, Corpus Christi and Laredo.
If convicted, federal prosecutors said they will also move for a monetary judgment.
Both Cano and Meeks are spending the weekend in a federal detention center.
They are scheduled for an arraignment on the indictment and a detention hearing in McAllen federal court Monday afternoon.