A woman called our office yesterday in a panic. She received a call from an NYPD detective who wants her to surrender on Medicaid fraud charges tomorrow.
The call was not a complete surprise. Three months ago, she received a letter from a Medicaid fraud investigator at the HRA Bureau of Fraud Investigation. The investigator asked her to come to his office for an "interview." He also asked her to bring her tax returns for the past five years, recent pay stubs, and other financial documents.
She thought about getting a lawyer to help her with the investigation, but she wanted to save some money. She also thought the investigator would go easy on her if she cooperated and told the truth. So, she went to the "interview" alone.
When she arrived at the Bureau of Fraud Investigation, she was placed in a small room with no windows. Two Medicaid fraud investigators came in and asked for her tax returns and other financial records. She turned them over.
The investigators left her alone in the room with the door shut for about half an hour. She does not know what they were doing. Based on experience, I know that they probably copied all of her tax returns and financial records. Then they sat down and compared her tax returns to her applications and re-certifications for Medicaid benefits.
When the investigators returned to the room, they were very polite. They returned her tax returns and financial records. They only asked a few questions, such as the address of her residence, the names of everyone who lived with her, the name and address of her employer, whether her signature appeared on the re-certification forms, and whether she actually signed and filed the tax returns she gave them. One investigator asked the questions while the other one took notes.
At the end of the "interview," the investigators said thank you and that they would be in touch.
The next call she received was from the NYPD detective telling her that she had to surrender on Medicaid fraud charges.
Tomorrow, the detective will put her in handcuffs and walk her through the arrest process. She will be fingerprinted and her mug shot will be taken. Then she will wait in a jail cell until they can run her criminal history or rap sheet. If she is lucky, she will remain in the jail cell for six or seven hours. If she is unlucky, she could sleep in the jail cell overnight. At some point she will be arraigned before a judge on felony charges, including Grand Larceny and Welfare Fraud. The judge will set bail, which she will have to post before she will be allowed to go home.
All of this could have been avoided if she had retained a lawyer before she went to see the investigators at the HRA Bureau of Fraud Investigation.
The investigators may have had suspicions about her income before she went to their office. They may have had a good circumstantial case. But they did not have her tax returns, bank records, or recent pay stubs. Without those records, the investigators did not have enough evidence to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt. But once she turned over her records, they had an open and shut case.
If she had retained a lawyer at the investigation stage, her lawyer would have spoken with the investigators. He would have discovered what evidence they had against her and, more importantly, what evidence they needed. Then her lawyer would have negotiated with the investigators to avoid any criminal charges. She most likely would have paid back some benefits, but she would not have been arrested or charged with serious crimes.
In fact, when a lawyer is involved, more than 95% of investigations at the Bureau of Fraud Investigation are settled with no criminal charges. In most cases, our clients never have to answer any questions. We meet with the investigators on their behalf. Sometimes we convince the investigators to drop the investigation completely. Other times we are able to negotiate a settlement agreement with the investigators. And, in the very rare case when the investigators seek criminal charges, the District Attorney has a very weak case because our client has not turned over any tax returns or made any admissions.
Do not make the same mistake this woman did. If you receive a letter from the HRA Bureau of Fraud Investigation, get an experienced lawyer on your side right away. Your lawyer can often avoid criminal charges and negotiate a settlement that will save you much more money than you will pay in legal fees.
To schedule a consultation with an experienced Medicaid fraud lawyer, call John Howley, Esq. right now at (212) 601-2728.