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Pastor Gets 15 Years for Massive Medicare Fraud

LOS ANGELES (CN) - A federal judge has sentenced the pastor of a now defunct Los Angeles church to 15 years in prison after he was convicted for bilking millions from Medicare for unnecessary power wheelchairs.

Christopher Iruke, 61, must also pay $6.7 million in restitution, jointly and severally with his co-conspirators.

In August 2011, a jury convicted Iruke; his wife, Connie Ikpoh; and one of their employees, Aura Marroquin, of conspiracy and health care fraud.

Iruke and Ikpoh, a nurse at two local hospitals, owned four fraudulent durable medical equipment supply companies, Pascon Medical Supply, Horizon Medical Equipment and Supply, Contempo Medical Equipment, and Ladera Medical Equipment.

Pacson operated from the same Los Angeles address as the Arms of Grace Christian Center church where Iruke and Ikpoh served as pastors. The couple employed several parishioners to help with the scheme.

Prosecutors showed that the co-conspirators used fraudulent prescriptions and documents to bill Medicare for expensive, high-end power wheelchairs and orthotics that were medically unnecessary or never provided.

"These power wheelchairs cost approximately $900 per wheelchair wholesale, but were billed to Medicare at a rate of approximately $6,000 per wheelchair," according to the Justice Department.

Witnesses who sold fraudulent prescriptions and documents to Iruke testified that they and others paid cash kickbacks to street-level marketers to offer Medicare beneficiaries free power wheelchairs and other equipment in exchange for the beneficiaries' Medicare card numbers and personal information. These witnesses testified that they and their associates used this information to create fraudulent prescriptions and medical documents, which they sold to Iruke and his co-conspirators for $1,100 to $1,500 per prescription.

All told, the scammers submitting more than $14.2 million in fraudulent claims to Medicare and received about $6.7 million in reimbursement payments from Medicare. Prosecutors said Iruke and Ikpoh funneled this money back into the scheme and used it to cover personal expenses such as Mercedes car leases and home remodeling.

Ikpoh is scheduled to be sentenced on Feb. 27, 2012. The co-defendant, Auro Marroquin, was sentenced to time served last month.

Iruke's sister, Jummal Joy Ibrahim, and parishioner Darawn Shadene Vasquez are awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to the fraud last year.

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