Greenbelt, Maryland – A federal grand jury has returned an indictment charging eight individuals, including the President, Vice President and Chief Finance and Strategy Officer at a company that provided medical billing and coding services on government contracts and an employee at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC), with conspiracy to commit health care fraud and wire fraud and related charges, in connection with a scheme to defraud WRNMMC and the Defense Health Agency (DHA). The indictment was returned on March 17, 2022, and unsealed today upon the arrests of three defendants. Charged in the indictment are:
Akbar Masood, age 59, of Great Falls, Virginia;
Michelle O. Peebles, age 48, of Riverdale, Mayland;
Harriett Jackson, a / k / a “Harriett Soumah,” age 49, of Glenarden, Maryland;
Judith Russ, age 58, of Washington, DC;
Rhonda Paul, age 46, of Washington, DC;
Wesley Williams, age 47, of Takoma Park, Maryland;
Bagnon Jaques Titi, age 44, of Riverdale, Maryland; and
Alfred Antonio Duncan, age 44, of White Plains, Maryland.
Masood, Peebles, and Jackson are expected to have initial appearances this afternoon in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt. The remaining defendants are expected to have initial appearances later today or on April 8, 2022.
The indictment was announced by United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Erek L. Barron; Special Agent in Charge Scott Moreland of the Major Procurement Fraud Field Office, U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Division (CID); Special Agent in Charge Christopher Dillard of the Department of Defense Office of Inspector General, Defense Criminal Investigative Service – Mid-Atlantic Field Office (DCIS); Special Agent in Charge Alison F. Zavada of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS), Washington Field Office; and Acting Inspector General Rene Febles of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority Office of Inspector General (WMATA OIG).
According to the 12-count indictment, Masood was a part owner and “Chief Strategy Officer” of Company A, a Virginia-based company that served as a prime contractor for medical support services to WRNMMC and DHA. Peebles was a site manager at Company A. Jackson was President, Peebles was Vice-President, and Masood was “Chief Finance and Strategy Officer” of Company B, headquartered in Tysons, Virginia, which primarily provided medical billing and coding services on government contracts .
The indictment alleges that beginning in at least December 2016, Masood, Peebles, and Jackson established HMA Solutions as a Delaware Limited Liability Corporation, headquartered in Riverdale, Maryland, to take advantage of WRNMMC’s increased need for contract medical coders. Using his authority within Company A, Masood allegedly subcontracted work to HMA on Company A’s contract with WRNMMC to supply medical coding support without disclosing his participation in HMA to Company A’s co-owners. Masood, Peebles, and Jackson allegedly used the stolen identities of actual persons, including credentialed medical coders, to demonstrate that HMA had the ability to perform medical coding evaluation, feedback, and training services as a subcontractor to Company A. The indictment alleges that the defendants used falsified signature of one victim, who was a credentialed medical coder, to sign consulting agreements with Company A and representing that other identity theft victims would be performing the work. Further, the indictment alleges that Masood, Peebles, and Jackson generated false billable hours using the names of identity theft victims which they charged to Company A, which then billed those hours to WRNMMC. Russ, an official with WRNMMC, then allegedly verified the work performed by the non-existent coders. According to the indictment, beginning no later than January 2017, Russ was paid regularly by Peebles or Company B and had not disclosed this outside income or employment to officials at WRNMMC.
According to the indictment, Masood, Peebles, and Jackson steered a subsequent WRNMMC contract with Company A for in-person coding support from highly skilled coders (CDI Specialists), who are paid at a higher rate, to HMA as a sub-contractor. Masood, Peebles, and Jackson then allegedly billed Company A — and thereby WRNMMC — for CDI Specialist hours, none of which were ever provided.
As detailed in the indictment, Peebles and Jackson then recruited Paul, Williams, Titi, and Duncan to pose as medical coders and sign consulting agreements with Company A, even though none of them had any experience or credentials as medical coders. The indictment alleges that Paul, Williams, Titi, and Duncan repeatedly submitted falsified medical coding invoices, claiming the processing of thousands of encounters each month, and causing Company A to bill WRNMMC over $ 1 million for their false claims alone.
According to the indictment, between 2017 and 2019, the defendants obtained approximately $ 3.3 million from the scheme to defraud WRNMMC and DHA.
If convicted, the defendants each face a maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison for conspiracy to commit health care fraud and wire fraud. All of the defendants except Russ also face a maximum of 20 years in federal prison for each of the eight counts of wire fraud. Masood, Peebles and Jackson each face a mandatory sentence of two years in federal prison, consecutive to any other sentence imposed, for each of the two counts of aggravated identity theft, and Russ faces a maximum sentence of five years in federal prison for participating in the scheme, which was a conflict of interest to her federal employment. Actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after taking into account the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
An indictment is not a finding of guilt. An individual charged by indictment is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty at some later criminal proceedings.
United States Attorney Erek L. Barron commended the Army CID, DCIS, NCIS, and WMATA OIG for their work in the investigation. Mr. Barron thanked Assistant U.S. Attorneys Adam K. Ake, and Rajeev R. Raghavan, who are prosecuting the federal case.
For more information on the Maryland US Attorney’s Office, its priorities, and resources available to report fraud, please visit www.justice.gov/usao-md and https://www.justice.gov/usao-md/report-fraud.
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