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Friday, Oct 20, 2017
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Feds: Tampa man once again taking workers comp kickbacks

— Offering his services to help federal employees get workers compensation benefits, Lenny Perez noted on his company website that he was president of the National Association of Letter Carriers for 11 years.

He’s described in his profile as the “leading consultant/advocate in the field.”

What he doesn’t mention is that he did a stint in federal prison for taking kickbacks from healthcare providers for referring workers compensation claims to them.

Now, federal authorities say, he’s at it again. A new federal indictment charges Perez with conspiring with his daughter, Liane Perez-Rodriguez, 47, to receive a kickback for referring patients to healthcare providers as part of the federal Workers Compensation Program.

Federal investigators also say in a separate court filing that Perez was part of a scheme with the operators of a Tampa medical clinic to steal millions from the Workers Compensation Program through claims submitted on behalf of injured postal workers, whose medical problems were exaggerated and whose treatments were drawn out well beyond normal.

Before going to prison for the previous federal conviction, Perez, 69, of Tampa, went into business as Federal Workers Compensation Consultants, offering advocate services to injured federal employees, according to federal court filings.

The indictment handed up last week cites owner of unnamed medical clinic, referred to as Clinic A. It alleges that Perez and his daughter, who worked as a legal assistant in the Hillsborough County Public Defender’s office, solicited kickbacks from and referred injured federal workers to Clinic A, which paid the kickbacks in cash, checks and wire transfers.

The indictment says the clinic agreed to pay kickbacks of 15 to 20 percent of the profits generated from the referrals; Federal Workers Compensation Consultants referred virtually every one of its clients to the clinic.

From November 2012 to April 2014, the clinic made more than $250,000 in payments to a bank account in Perez-Rodriguez’ name, the indictment says. The indictment says Perez-Rodriguez withdrew the money and gave it to her father, except for $50,000, which she kept.

The father and daughter are also accused in the indictment of making false statements on paperwork purporting to transfer his company website to her for $88,000. The sale was not legitimate and was done to impede the federal investigation, the indictment states.

Perez-Rodriguez’s lawyer, Michael Maddux, said he could not comment on the case. Perez did not return an email seeking comment.

Although the indictment contains few details, a forfeiture action filed by the federal government in October describes an extensive investigation involving Perez and the owners of Amerimed Diagnostic Services and Perez’s company, Federal Workers Compensation Consultants.

Amerimed officials could not be reached for comment.

The investigation determined that the companies “have defrauded the United States government by submitting claims for millions of dollars in reimbursements for medical services that were medically unnecessary and/or never provided,” according to an affidavit by Kenneth Kelly, an agent with the Postal Service Office of Inspector General.

The former owner of the Amerimed office in Tampa, Ireno Lewis, sold the business in 2007, weeks after he was charged with healthcare fraud. Lewis eventually pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud and was sentenced to 41 months in federal prison, according to the affidavit.

After being indicted in 2003, Perez pleaded guilty in 2006 to receiving kickbacks and was sentenced to 21 months in federal prison, followed by three years of probation. One of the conditions of his probation, which ended in February 2011, was he refrain from employment or consulting related to federal workers compensation claims.

Federal Workers Compensation Consultants was first incorporated in 2004 by Vivian Perez, Lenin Perez’s wife, with Lenin “Lenny” Perez listed as treasurer in 2005, according to the affidavit. His name continued to appear in corporate filings until 2009 and then not until after his probation ended, the affidavit states.

Undercover agents attended a seminar given by Amerimed in 2012 on filing and processing workers compensation claims. Perez, the featured speaker, said he had started his business in 2002 after retiring from the Postal Service, according to the indictment. Perez said at the seminar that his fee for representing workers in their workers compensation claims was 10 percent of their awards on the claims.

After Perez’s company started referring patients to Amerimed in 2011, the clinic’s workers compensation claims spiked, according to the affidavit. From October 2009 to September 2011, the clinic was paid less than $550,000 from the program. From October 2011 to June 2014, the program paid the clinic about $11.5 million, the affidavit states.

Federal investigators received an anonymous tip in December 2013 that Perez was receiving kickbacks from Amerimed, with the payments funneled through his daughter, the affidavit states.

The affidavit also describes what investigators determined were fraudulent practices by Amerimed. For example, it says a small percentage of patients treated there ever returned to work in any capacity. Out of 121 injured postal employees, just 26 returned to work. The rest - 79 percent - were deemed totally disabled, unable to work and continued to receive treatment from Amerimed. This was deemed an “unusually high percentage,” the affidavit states.

The medically accepted duration of disability for a lumbar strain is between three and 28 days, yet the average duration at Amerimed was 321 days, the affidavit states.

The affidavit says a government doctor reported that there were numerous instances of patients who saw Veterans Administration doctors and later returned from Amerimed with much more serious diagnoses.

A former Amerimed doctor reported to investigators that 99 percent of the patients seen at Amerimed were injured federal employees. That doctor said he saw patients who should have been treated for months for their injuries were getting treated for years at Amerimed. He said some patients would complain about the length of their treatment and the frequency of their visits.

A former Amerimed employee told agents that Lewis - who had sold the business - controlled the operation and was business partners with Perez. The employee described the clinic as a “patient factory,” the affidavit states.

In 2010, Perez filed what would turn out to be an unsuccessful motion to be released early from his probation.

“The history and character of the defendant,” the motion states, “indicate that there will be no further violation of the law, since the arrest which led to the conviction and sentence was his first and only arrest, other than a DUI arrest in 1996, in his 64 years of life.”

According to the motion, Perez is disabled and receives a pension from the Postal Service.

esilvestrini@tampatrib.com

813-259-7837

Twitter: @ElaineTBO

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