Washington Park trustee among 15 nabbed for Medicaid fraud

News-DemocratJuly 11, 2013 

A St. Clair County probation officer who also serves as a Washington Park trustee was among 15 people indicted on Medicaid fraud charges, federal prosecutors said Thursday.

U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Illinois Stephen Wigginton blasted the program itself as a fraud.

"We have seen dozens of instances in which the state of Illinois paid for ghost employees and fictitious services. Except for one case, payments from the state of Illinois did not keep anyone out of an institutional setting," he said.

He said that one case kept a woman out of institutional care and led to her death.

The Home Services Program is a Medicaid waiver program that is designed to provide a disabled individual under 60 years old, who, with assistance in performing daily living activities in the home, would not have to be put into a nursing home.

Benefits and payment for services went to friends of people in jail, in the hospital, who weren't home and to those who fraudulently obtained checks and simply split the proceeds with the supposed caregivers, prosecutors said. One Southern Illinois caregiver claimed to be caring for a person who had moved to Texas.

Darron A. Suggs, 39, of East St. Louis faces federal allegations that he abused the federal program. He is a Washington Park trustee and county employee.

St. Clair County state's Attorney Brendan Kelly said, "The exploitation of the sick and elderly must be confronted for the crime that it is. I am personally angered and disappointed with Mr. Suggs."

Also charged was Lisa C. Luckett, 49, of Cahokia, who faces additional charges from St. Clair County that she neglected an elderly person's care, leading to the death of Dorothy Cooper, 62, a family friend. Charges state Cooper was starved and her hygiene and medical care were ignored to the point that she developed sepsis. Luckett used a relative's identity to obtain benefits although she, too, was disabled, and neglected Cooper until Cooper died in Luckett's home.

Cooper's niece said family members didn't know their loved one was in the condition that she was.

Jackie Cooper Cannon said family had to schedule appointments to see Cooper because she lived in Luckett's home. And when they saw Cooper, her hair was fixed and she was appropriately attired.

"The Cooper family simply wants justice for Dorothy Cooper and other elderly people who were neglected," Cooper-Cannon said.

St. Clair County Sheriff Rick Watson said "Taxpayers are paying for something that is not being done. But more than this is the human element -- a human being being allowed to lay and suffer when the state pays for the jobs to be done."

The 15 indictments on Thursday were the second wave for Medicaid fraud in Southern Illinois. A total of 29 indictments have been issued.

Gerald Roy, special agent in charge at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services office of Inspector General, said he wants the public to know that everyone has an obligation to report fraud.

"The anonymous hotline number to report this kind of fraud is 1-800 HHS TIPS.

"We're looking out for the beneficiaries. We must ensure that this vulnerable population is protected. And, it has a significant impact on the state's budget. Taxpayers expect a program that is efficient, free from fraud, waste and abuse," he said.

Wigginton said one of the worst examples was of a beneficiary who got a one-day furlough from jail so he could meet with his case worker at his home to continue receiving home services benefits. He then returned to jail, receiving benefits for months.

Others from the metro-east who were charged include: Sherri R. Goree, 36, of East St. Louis; Henry J. Billips III, 48, of Cahokia; Karashia A. Tabbs, 45, of Cahokia; Valeria W. Johnson, 56, of Centreville; Roslyn R. James, 47, of Alton; Irma Jones, 67, of Centreville; Rosalyn Ross, 46, of Swansea; and Betty Jean Mays, 43, of Centralia.

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