Woman gets 4 years for Medicaid fraud; charges pending in death of family friend

News-DemocratFebruary 14, 2014 

Lisa C. Luckett was paid by Medicaid to take care of a family friend, Dorothy Cooper.

But Cooper died last March in Luckett's home near Cahokia. She was emaciated and weighed about 90 pounds.

On Friday, Luckett was sentenced to spend four years in federal prison and pay restitution of $78,336 for defrauding Medicaid. Luckett still faces state charges of two felony counts of criminal neglect of an elderly person resulting in death.

Cooper, who was 62 and disabled, died from "stroke from hypertension and from malnutrition and sepsis due to neglect of medical, nutritional and hygienic care." She had many bone deep wounds with a blackish discoloration, according to the St. Clair County Coroner's report.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Ranley Killian told U.S. District Judge David Herndon that as of February 2012, Cooper weighed 186 pounds. When she was found unresponsive by an EMT crew on March 21, she had lost about half her body weight.

Killian had argued for three years in prison for Luckett, which would have been the maximum allowed under the advisory sentencing guidelines. But Herndon rejected the advisory sentencing guidelines and sentenced Luckett to four years.

Herndon said Luckett, 50, was manipulative and not interested in doing things right.

"The death of this blameless person is shocking on every level," U.S. Attorney Stephen Wigginton said. "It should serve as the spear point in the fight to reform this program."

Luckett was being paid to care for Cooper under the Home Services Program, which is designed to provide a disabled individual with assistance in performing daily living activities in the home so the person doesn't have enter a nursing home.

Nationwide, one of the biggest fraud problems in Medicaid has been these personal assistant programs, which represent the No. 1 fraud complaint to state Medicaid fraud units, Wigginton said in a news release.

Also sentenced Friday was Henry Billups III, a heroin addict who said he was paid $40 each time he cashed a Medicaid check for Luckett. His total take was about $1,600.

Billups was sentenced to time served, which was about six months. He said his imprisonment allowed him to get clean. He now must pay $20,965 in restitution.

Luckett and Billups were among 15 people swept up by federal agencies for defrauding Medicaid in the metro-east. They pleaded guilty in September.

Luckett, when visited by personnel from the Department of Health and Social Services, lied and said Billups was her husband and Cooper's brother.

Ken Wells, a special agent with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Inspector General, testified that from 2006-2011, Cooper identified her daughter, Sherita Luckett, as Cooper's personal assistant. But, when agents asked Sherita Luckett about it, she said she was not.

Luckett, if living by herself would have received $900 monthly income from a disability check and food stamps. With Cooper living in her house, this boosted her income to $3,000.

Sean O'Brien, an EMT, responded to Luckett's house at 20 Violet Drive in the Parkfield Terrace community near Cahokia on March 21. He said there was a foul odor in Cooper's bedroom. "It's the worst thing I've ever smelled. It was horrible," he said.

Cooper was taken to Touchette Regional Hospital in Centreville, where she was pronounced dead.

Courtroom scene

Cooper's family was at Luckett's sentencing Friday. They wore T-shirts with Cooper's picture as well as her dates of birth and death. "Justice For Dorothy" was emblazoned on the shirts.

Luckett cried and said she took Cooper, a family friend, into her home but failed to care for Cooper because she, too, was ill.

"I loved Dorothy. She was like a big sister," Luckett said. "I told her I was sick, but she didn't want to leave," she said sobbing loudly. This brought some disagreeable sounds from members of Cooper's family, who filled the courtroom benches.

Luckett asked the family, without looking at them, to forgive her. Luckett told Herndon she was sorry. She said she did the best she could, but that she was ill herself and couldn't do anymore. She said she tried to tell Cooper's family she could no longer care for Cooper. Cooper's family members denied that after the hearing.

Defense attorney Tom Gabel told Herndon that Luckett has stage four kidney disease. Killian wanted her remanded Friday, but Herndon allowed her to remain free until she receives a call from the U.S. Marshals Service telling her where and when to report.

The Cooper family asked Herndon to sentence Luckett to the maximum federal punishment.

A niece, Jacqueline Cannon Cooper, read a statement to Herndon. She said she wanted everyone in the courtroom to know that her aunt was "a mother, sister, niece and grandmother. She wasn't that malnourished animal she appeared to be lying on the table in the funeral home."

"Greed is the reason we're here. Greed is the selfish desire to have more of something than you need. Lisa Luckett allowed her fraudulent need for state funds to divert needed care away from my aunt, Dorothy, to a stage of poor health and death. Hopefully, the maximum federal punishment allowed would suffice and fill Lisa's hunger for 'greed.' Your honor, we feel helpless and hopeless, the way my aunt Dorothy felt. The people of Illinois ... need assurance that there will be a system in place which will allow proper care for those who are disabled and depend on state and federal agencies. Our family wants justice for Dorothy and others who are being neglected by caregivers for money."

Luckett's sister, Evelyn Harris said she didn't think the sentence was fair.

"She is in poor health condition. I think it was unfair. She was trying to help the lady to the best of her ability," Harris said.

Cassandra Cooper, a niece, called the sentencing "fair." She said it was important to send a message to others that this kind of behavior won't be tolerated.

Contact reporter Carolyn P. Smith at 618-239-2503.

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