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34 posts from June 2012


Houston clinic operator accused of $45 million fraud extradited from Nigeria

A man wanted in connection with a $45 million health care fraud scheme in Houston has been extradited to the United States from Nigeria and arrested.

Godwin Chiedo Nzeocha was charged in 2009 with conspiracy to commit health care fraud, 39 counts of Godwin health care fraud, three counts of mail fraud and three counts of money laundering.

Nzeocha, 45, was in charge of City Nursing of Houston, which filed claims to Medicare for physical therapy the government says was not provided. The clinics received about $27 million in reimbursements from the claims.

A naturalized United States citizen originally from the Federal Republic of Nigeria, he fled there but was arrested by Nigerian authorities in June 2011.

On June 27, the FBI extradited Nzeocha from Nigeria, and he was arrested upon his arrival in Houston.

Five people have been convicted in the conspiracy, including City Nursing’s owner, Umawa Oke Imo, who is serving 27 years in prison, according to the Justice Department.

If convicted, Nzeocha faces up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each charge of health care fraud, conspiracy to commit health care fraud and money laundering charges. Mail fraud carries an additional maximum punishment of up to 20 years in prison.

-- Darren Barbee


Texas auctioneers offer crooks' spoils: Rembrandts, Picassos and Goofy

Goofy and goofy

They may be convicted swindlers, but don't accuse these felons of bad taste.

Once again, the gavel is falling on a few miscreants, courtesy of Gaston & Sheehan Auctioneers of Pflugerville, Texas. The auction house is handling paintings and other items seized by U.S. Marshals

For the easy to please, there's a couple of Picassos available. But if you're looking for something a little more sophisticated, consider depictions of Dora the Explorer, Tinkerbell, Goofy and Minnie Mouse "Courting" -- all on oil and canvas.

One auction features the collection of his ex-holiness, Shawn R. Merriman, a convicted Ponzi schemer and former Mormon bishop

Merriman bilked investors out of as much as $20 million, according to federal authorities. Merriman bought the usual load of swag: Classic car collection. Guns. Boat. John Deer Bobcat.

Pitching machine? You bet. 

But second only to his joy of ripping people off, was apparently a wicked craving for Biblical art. U.S. Marshals seized 375 pieces of art, including Old Masters Fine Art, contemporary art and bronze busts from Merriman. Rembrandt

Offerings include a Rembrandt painted in 1655, Christ Presented to the People, opening at $68,000. So far, no takers. 

At the low end, a Hermann Van Swanevelt etching of The Flight into Egypt from the 1650s (give or take) is currently going for $55 after two bids.

For duds, look no further than convicted embezzler Sujata “Sue” Sachdeva's raided closet. Swindling Sue siphoned off $34 million and blew it on designer clothes and bags.

Shouldn't buying this Judith Leiber clutch handbag have earned Sue an extra five years?


An auction of her other effects runs through July 10 and is available at www.txauction.com. A one money deal includes belt, leather skirt, leather suit, five cocktail dresses, evening gowns and more, at $9,140. 

One wonders, though, is it chic to wear a thief's fleece?

-- Darren Barbee


Texas doctor's cancer cure: inject blood in a cow udder, have a glass of the milk

Warning: This post contains references to cows, blood and quite possibly some bull.

Roby Mitchell, M.D. is not your typical doctor. Technically, in fact, he hasn’t been licensed to practice medicine in Texas since 2005.

Mitchell — known by the moniker Dr. Fitt on his website — must have just shrugged his shoulders, since Good doctoring the Amarillo doctor kept on working.

And the work has recently been Stephen King strange.

In February 2011, when the Texas Medical Board found out he was still in the med business, they entered a cease and desist order against him, prohibiting him from practicing.

No doubt hurt by the spitefulness of the board’s decision, Dr. Fitt did what any unlicensed medical professional would do: He kept on going.

By the end of April 2011, Dr. Fitt had evaluated a patient with skin cancer that had spread to other parts of his body.

PrescriptionDr. Fitt held himself out to be a cancer doctor, board documents say. He first prescribed a cream to rub on the patient’s shoulder where had had received surgery for his melanoma. We hope it was Burt’s Bees, because we hear that really helps.

Then Dr. Fitt consulted his extensive medical knowledge to prescribe colostrum bovine treatment.

The treatment involved drawing blood from the patient, injecting the blood into a pregnant cow’s udder and then drinking milk from the cow.

Dr. Fitt said that cool but peculiar milkshake would contain anti-bodies to fight the cancer, according to Drink up
the board. Alas, the patient passed away before he had a chance to drink the milk.

(As of last year, claims associated with colostrum, a supplement, haven’t been substantiated by the FDA, according to livestrong.com)

Dr. Fitt charged $5,000 for the treatment.

The farmer who owned the cow refunded $2,500 to the patient’s widow. Dr. Fitt wouldn’t refund his half, the board said.

A woman who answered the phone for Dr. Fitt said to check out his Facebook page for a response to the board’s actions, but we couldn’t find it. (If you find it, let us know.)

His website has this to say, in part, about his career: “Dr. Mitchell voluntarily surrendered his Texas Medical license in 2005 after realizing the corruptness of an industry that has no concern for the health of Americans.” 

To be fair, there is a lot of wiggle room between “voluntarily surrendered” and “revoked.”

Dr. Fitt says he has since trained doctors, nurses, pharmacists and others in this country, Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom and elsewhere “in strategies that result in curing rather than managing symptoms.”

At any rate, Dr. Fitt is once again being told not to practice medicine. Best of luck with that, medical board.

-- Darren Barbee


Taken to the cleaner: Texas laundry owner to pay $43k for sex harassment claim

A federal agency says it's taken the starch out of a McAllen dry cleaner owner — and a pretty good chunk Sweating itof change — after he was accused of some grubby behavior with an employee.

A woman accused Frank Mora, owner of Oasis Dry Cleaners, of making sexual comments to her and showing her pornographic material, according to a federal lawsuit. Mora was also accused of touching her, putting his hands around her waist, pinching her near her bra strap, laying his hand across her bra strap and “rubbing his body against her,” the suit said.

We're no experts, but we don't think that kind of pressing is in the job description.

Mora is now on the hook for $43,000 after settling the case and will provide “significant remedial relief to a former female employee who was subjected to a sexually hostile work environment,” the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said.

In April 2010, the woman filed a sexual harassment complaint against her employer with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Two weeks later, after filing an EEOC complaint, she was fired. Hanging out

 “Employees have a legal right to go to work every day without the anxiety of being subjected to harassment related to their gender,” said EEOC Senior Trial Attorney David Rivela of the agency’s San Antonio Field Office. 

Mora denied the allegations and also contended that he was not owner of Oasis Dry Cleaners at all times that the woman complained of his alleged behavior.

Mora’s McAllen attorney, James Grissom, said the settlement agreement says his client admitted no wrongful conduct or wrongdoing. He said the suit was settled to save litigation costs while “allowing for all the risks of trial.”

-- Darren Barbee

Ask The Watchdog: Yes, you were scammed

A peek inside the mailbag of Star-Telegram Watchdog Columnist Dave Lieber:

Dear Watchdog:

I'm writing this letter in hopes you can help me. You have helped so many. Maybe me too.

Senior crime
(Photo from Atlanta Journal Constitution)

Last October I was on the Internet and found a website about working at home. I'm 72 years old and on Social Security. And I need a little extra income.

Anyway, this company claimed to help people get out of credit card debt. I wired them $15,000 of my money (all that I had) and then the next day I couldn't get into their website. I'm blocked out. I notified the Internet fraud service, the Texas Attorney General and the FBI. Nobody is doing anything to get my money back. Please help me. No one else will. I was stupid in giving my money away but it sounded like a very good deal.

Broken-hearted in Fort Worth

Dear Broken:

This wins the award for the saddest letter I have received in some time. The money, along with the crooks, have vanished into thin air. It's the perfect crime in that it's nearly impossible to catch. In the old days, the outlaws had to ride into town, scope out the town bank and then hit it when they wanted. The new criminals just have to fool 72-year-olds on the Internet and it isn't hard, as you so clearly show.

The main place to complain is the Internet Crime Center at http://www.ic3.gov/default.aspx. They hear from so many people every day. They have the ability and the technology to trace these people, possibly. You say you have complained to them. I suggest you recontact them and be a burr in their saddle. They only like to go after people who have been hurt, and you've been hurt. I wish I could help you here. I really do. But this is one that is too much of a challenge and requires technical skills, search warrants, the power of subpoena, all the legal tools that a newspaper columnist does not have at his or her disposal.

Bottom line for everyone else: Do not send money to people you do not know or stores on the Internet that are not credible and proven. The chance of being scammed is so high that it's not worth the risk.


# # #

Dear Watchdog:

A few weeks ago, my wife received documents on the Internet. She believes they are real. I've contacted the FBI and the local police. I have not had an answer back yet. If you can help in anyway, please. I need somebody to tell her that it's a scam. She won't believe anything other than that it's legitimate.


Need Help in Azle

(The husband included the documents, which purport to be an application for a British bank for her to receive $550 million. She is supposed to sign documents that give others the power of attorney and places the money for her in a Chinese bank.)

The Watchdog wrote the wife a letter. In essense, it said the following:

Hi. I heard you came into some money, a lot! I've looked at the documents and it took me less than half a second to come to my conclusion: It's fake! It's fake! It's fake! It's fake! It's fake! It's fake! It's fake! It's fake! It's fake! It's fake! It's fake! It's fake! It's fake! It's fake! It's fake! It's fake! It's fake! 


The Watchdog

Final note: The husband recontacted The Watchdog and said his wife believed us.

# # #

Follow Star-Telegram Watchdog Dave Lieber's work at the Dave Lieber column.

Dave Lieber headshot

# # #


University's generosity study cost $360,000, included trips to Paris, Milan, Dublin

Press release of the week: Arizona State University is promoting a study of what motivates generosity in people. And boy, was it an expensive study.

Benjamins from heaven“Generosity is accepted and encouraged as a practice, but the reasons behind the behavior are not well understood. An interdisciplinary team of faculty working with Arizona State University’s Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict are exploring what motivates people to be generous and how religion influences their actions,” the press release says.

The study focused on Muslims and Catholics.

That’s all very good and well, but none of it woldn’t have been possible without funding from a $363,000 grant from the John Templeton Foundation/University of Notre Dame Science of Generosity Initiative.

If there was a saying for this sort of thing, it would probably go, "it takes money to figure out why people are giving their money away."

Still here are some clues: The study took researchers to Dublin, Milan, Paris and Istanbul. Hope the researchers tipped well.

An Arizona State media relations officer said the study involved field research that involved more than 1,000 participants. 

Anyway, following the logic here, a generous gift  of cash is helping researches understand why others Giving folks give. Isn’t that a conflict of interest? Nah, probably not.

“Researchers examined factors within each religion that might motivate generosity, such as a sense of duty to one’s God, the love of Jesus or Mohammad, feelings of being blessed and the way each religion is organized. The work involved interviews, participating in religious group activities and conducting experiments,” the press release stated.

Findings include that members of the religions were more likely to volunteer if the person asking for the donation was personally known to themm such as an imam or priest.

Notre Dame has a list of some of its findings here

-- Darren Barbee

Reap the Whirlpool: Company will pay $1 million to woman beaten and harassed

WhirlpoolWhirlpool Corp. has agreed to pay $1 million to a black woman who accused a co-worker of sexually and racially harassing and who was ultimately “pummeled” by a white man, resulting in permanent mental injuries, according to a federal agency.

The case stretches back to 2004, when the woman was working at a plant in LaVergne, Tenn. Over a two-month period a co-worker, Willie Baker, made sexually explicit and racially charged statements to the woman, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The statements involved topics such as the relative “bedroom skills” of white and black men, singing (yes, singing) obscene sexual language to entice her (as well as a Neil Diamond song), commenting on her undergarments and other sexual remarks.

He also made comments related to killing “all you black (people)” and saying he was tired of black people, whom he refereed to using the n-word.

After the woman complained about those remarks, a manufacturing supervisor was at one point accused of profanely suggesting, “Why don’t you just go ahead and (have sex with) him and get it over with?  Then maybe he would leave you alone," according to court documents.

In late March 2004, Baker, apparently without provocation, struck her in the face and knocked her down, Mcclatchy image domestic violence then continued to hit her when she was on the ground, the EEOC said in a court filing.

Co-workers separated the two. The woman suffered serious physical and emotional injuries and has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder caused by the assault, according to court documents. The EEOC said she has been unable to return to employment.

Baker was later convicted of assault in criminal court and referred for psychiatric counseling by that court, a judge's ruling said.

In December 2009, a judge awarded the employee in $1,073,261 in back pay, front pay and compensatory damages.  In April 2011, Whirlpool appealed the judgment to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. The company withdrew its appeal on June 11 and agreed to settle the case with the EEOC for $1 million and court costs.

Whirlpool's media department did not respond to email questions by Thursday. In court filings, it had vigorously contested the accusations against its responsiveness to the woman’s complaints.

UPDATE: Kris Vernier, Senior Manager, Global Public and Media Relations for Whirlpool, said the corporation is "committed to providing an inclusive and engaged workplace for all its employees. Diversity with inclusion is a core value in our operations throughout the world. This matter involved allegations from 2004, and this plant closed in 2008. We are pleased to have now resolved this with the EEOC."

Based in Benton Harbor, Mich., the company describes itself as  the world’s “leading manufacturer and marketer of major home appliances, with annual sales of approximately $19 billion in 2011.”

-- Darren Barbee


Do cell phones emit harmful radiation?

You know that iPhone in your pocket? Of course, to avoid harmful radiation, you are following Apple's advice about how to carry your iPhone, right?

What? You didn't read the fine print that came with the phone? Well, let Watchdog Bytes help you. It's right there in small print in the iPhone 4S operating guide:

Here's a copy and paste from the guide:

Iphone guide

[The above is from Apple's iPhone 4S user guide. Did you miss it?]

[Image courtesy of techtipssalon.com.]

Whaaat? You've never seen that before? You mean you carry it in your pocket? Or strapped to your belt? Or in a metal case?

Hello Geiger counter!!

Don't worry. The Federal Communications Commission is coming to your rescue.

The FCC wants to revisit a question it hasn't looked at for 15 years: are U.S. government standards that set allowed radiation emission levels for cell phones acceptable?

Government scientists, so far, haven't found that phones can cause cancer or other problems in users. But the phones themselves have changed drastically in the last 15 years. About 44 million people in the U.S. had mobile phones in 1996. Now there are 332 million wireless devices in the U.S., Bloomberg News reports.

The government has said that people can use speaker phones or earpieces to increase the distance of a phone from a user's body, Bloomberg reports.

Then there's the matter of teenage phone users and those even younger. Could they be more affected with emissions than adults? That's the kind of question that the FCC will examine. And the results could affect millions of phone users.

Maybe there could be a campaign to go along with the growing don't-text-and-drive movement: Keep your phone an inch away from your body.


This report is from Star-Telegram Watchdog columnist Dave Lieber. Read his full reports on Friday and Sunday at Star-Telegram.com.

Dave Lieber headshot



Audit's finding of $271 million in improper health care payments no shock to feds

Medal of mediocrityAt this point, the public should probably just expect abject failure in the Medicare program.

Maybe that sounds a bit harsh. But it seems whenever anyone bothers to take a look, even at something as innoccous as home blood-glucose test strips and lancets, certain cows are fattened and taxpayers’ Wallet wallets flattened.

Alas, a new report shows 2007 contract payments for the test strips and lancets improperly paid estimated $271 million in claims. Of that, $209 million was improperly paid to suppliers, according to the inspector general for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

In their defense, the federal health program suspected that they had wrongly coughed up hundreds of millions of dollars. 

The review found these problems:

• Physician orders were missing or incomplete

• Proof-of-delivery records were missing

• There was no supporting documentation that indicated refill requirements had been met

• The quantity of supplies exceeded utilization guidelines, wren’t supported by a documentated reason for additional supplies, frequency of testing, or physicians’ evaluations of the patients’ diabetic control within 6 months before ordering the supplies

MedicareThe inspector general estimated contractors allowed for payment of $1.2 billion in claims for test strips and lancets in 2007.

Apparently, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services wasn't exactly shocked by the findings, saying that  the findings "confirms CMS' own annual error rate analysis,” the agency said.

Bang up job. Thanks for letting everyone know, Medicare.

-- Darren Barbee

Which criminal court judge works hardest in Tarrant County?

A little-known Tarrant County judicial dashboard may help the public answer that question. The electronic board -- accessible on the world wide web -- delivers a plethora of stats on thousands of cases filed in each of the county's 10 district and criminal district courts. The board, by individual court, details the number of cases filed, cases disposed each month, cases filed minus those disposed and certain settable cases. Looking at the dashboard's criminal cases disposed so far this year, the average among the 10 courts is about 734 cases. Judge Sharen Wilson of Criminal District Court No. 1 leads the pack with 809 disposed cases. Second is Judge Mollie Westfall of the 371st District Court with 804. Judge Robb Catalano, of Criminal District Court No. 3, had the fewest number of disposed cases with 650 cases so far this year. However, Catalano may catch up by the time the year's over. He posted one of the highest number of disposed cases so far in June -- 65 total. (Of June cases, Judge Mike Thomas, of Criminal District Court No. 4, leads the pack with 73.) Of course, other measures are on the dashboard for the public to make their own determinations about judicial workloads and efficiency.

To view the Criminal District Courts Judicial Dashboard, go to: https://ijis.tarrantcounty.com/judicialdashboard/


--Yamil Berard