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Published:April 5th, 2008 07:41 EST
Six arrested and charged in connection with $2 million health care fraud ring

Six arrested and charged in connection with $2 million health care fraud ring

By SOP newswire

LOS ANGELES - Six men charged with running a crime ring that stole nearly $2 million from federal and private health insurers were arrested here today following a federal and local probe involving U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) into a health care fraud scheme.

Collectively, the defendants face 62 counts of conspiracy to commit a crime, money laundering and grand theft of personal property.  The alleged crimes occurred between March 2005 and September 2006.

"On a national level, health care fraud continues to milk billions of dollars annually from government-funded health plans and private health insurers,” District Attorney Steve Cooley said.  “Health care fraud affects us all. These criminals not only squander health funds for underserved populations who truly warrant subsidized aid, they also affect the average consumer who is hit in the pocket book by fraud-related costs incurred by private health companies."

Robert Schoch, special agent in charge of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Office of Investigations in Los Angeles, said ICE will continue to work with its local and federal law enforcement partners to attack and dismantle these kinds of schemes.

"Aside from the obvious harm to insurers and needy patients, the money siphoned off in fraud schemes like this is often funneled into other forms of criminal enterprise," Schoch said.

Those charged in the case are: Karapet Khacheryan, 37; Hovik Joe Altunyan, 30; Edkar Mikirtijyan, 25; Grigor Khorikyan, 29; Vahan E. Harutyunyan, 32; and Smbat Khachtryan, 26.  The six men are due to be arraigned at the Criminal Justice Center April 7.  Bail is recommended at $1.98 million for each defendant.

The case, which was referred to the District Attorney's Office by ICE and the United States Department of Health and Human Services - Office of the Inspector General, began as a drug and money laundering investigation, later expanding to include health care fraud.

"Fighting Medicare and Medicaid fraud is a top priority," said Glenn Ferry, Special Agent in Charge for the Los Angeles Region of the Office of Inspector General for the federal Department of Health and Human Services. "We will work tirelessly with our federal and state law enforcement partners to bring those who perpetrate such frauds to justice."

The men were taken into custody early this morning by federal authorities from residences in North Hollywood, Glendale, and Van Nuys, Calif.  A seventh suspect was taken into custody on an unrelated gun charge.  Search warrants also were executed at two businesses in Burbank.  Of those named in the case, the highest number of charges faced by a single defendant is 31 counts.

The Los Angeles County Health Authority Law Enforcement Task Force (HALT), the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department Major Crimes and COPS bureaus, and the California Department of Justice, Bureau of Medical Fraud and Elder Abuse assisted federal agents in this investigation.

All defendants face special allegations because the offenses involved fraud and embezzlement with a pattern of related felony conduct. The special allegations also stem from the fact the defendants are suspected of taking more than $500,000, with estimated property losses exceeding more than $1 million.  Prosecutors say the District Attorney's Office will seek restitution from the defendants.