Louisiana Spine & Sports doctor accused of $4.4M Medicare scheme pleads guilty

2 other employees also plead guilty to crimes
Updated: Feb. 14, 2019 at 3:45 PM CST
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BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) – A Baton Rouge-based doctor pleaded guilty on Wednesday, Feb. 13 for his role in a $4.4M scheme to commit wire fraud and healthcare fraud, officials say. A woman identified as his medical billing supervisor also pleaded guilty on Thursday, Feb. 14 in relation to the scheme.

Officials with the Department of Justice say Dr. John Eastham Clark, 65, and Charlene Anita Severio, 54, of Walker, allegedly conspired in a $4.4 million scheme to submit false claims to Medicare and other private insurance companies on behalf of Louisiana Spine & Sports, llc., which is a pain management clinic in Baton Rouge that is co-owned by Dr. Clark.

Police say Clark and Severio falsified claims indicating that some minor surgical procedures happened on separate days as patient visits, then told employees to create false records to support those claims. The two were also accused of submitting false claims so they could be reimbursed for medically unnecessary urinalysis tests.

“For nearly a decade, John Eastham Clark and Charlene Anita Severio submitted fraudulent claims to Medicare and other health insurers for payments they were not entitled to receive,” said Assistant Attorney General Benczkowski. “These guilty pleas should serve as a warning to unscrupulous doctors and other medical professionals: the Criminal Division’s Medicare Fraud Strike Force and our law enforcement partners will aggressively investigate and prosecute illegal billing practices and other fraudulent schemes that steal taxpayer dollars and increase healthcare program costs for all Americans.”

Clark pleaded guilty to the following:

  • Conspiracy to commit health care fraud

His sentencing has not been scheduled yet by U.S. District Judge Shelly D. Dick of the Middle District of Louisiana, who accepted his plea.

Severio pleaded guilty to the following:

  • One count of an indictment charging her with conspiracy to commit health care fraud and wire fraud 
  • Two counts of the indictment charging health care fraud.

Her sentencing has not been scheduled yet by Judge Dick, who accepted her plea.

“In defrauding the Medicare system, Dr. Clark violated a sacred oath taken by physicians but above all he violated the law,” said U.S. Attorney Fremin. “Ms. Severio, an employee of Dr. Clark, submitted fraudulent claims to both Medicare and other health care insurers as part of the scheme. We will continue to hold medical professionals accountable for abusing positions of trust in the community and for harming the financial integrity of our health care system. I want to thank the Department of Justice’s Criminal Division, Fraud Section, the FBI, Health and Human Services - Office of Inspector General and the dedicated attorneys and staff from our office for their outstanding efforts in this case.”

In another case involving Louisiana Spine & Sports, on Nov. 20, 2018, Gray Wesley Barrow, a co-owner of Louisiana Spine & Sports, pleaded guilty to a scheme to receive approximately $336,000 in illegal health care kickback payments. Barrow is scheduled to be sentenced on March 1. In addition, Christopher William Armstrong, a former physician’s assistant at Louisiana Spine & Sports, pleaded guilty on Nov. 27, 2018 for his role in a scheme to unlawfully distribute thousands of oxycodone pills. Armstrong is scheduled to be sentenced on April 16.

“Agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation remain dedicated to combating health care fraud and to doing our part in reducing the impact that opioids have on our nation,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Rommal. “This was a case that spanned multiple years and has resulted in numerous convictions. It highlights the cooperation between the FBI and the Health and Human Services - Office of the Inspector General.”

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