Seven-Year Stretch for AIDS Clinic Fraud

     MANHATTAN (CN) – An operator of AIDS clinics who harmed an unknown number of HIV-positive patients in a more-than $31 million Medicare fraud scheme must spend 87 months in prison for his “simply reprehensible” crime, a federal judge ruled.
     U.S. District Judge Katherine Polk Failla called it the “most egregious case” of fraud to land on her docket.
     Oscar Huachillo, 55, operated clinics in three New York City boroughs that offered to pay patients living with HIV to accept treatment with them, only to give them diluted or placebo medications.
     The “cynical” scheme relied on paying “cash kickbacks to HIV-positive patients, many of whom were desperate for money,” according to the government’s sentencing memo.
     Operating between 2009 and 2013, the clinics lured patients in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Astoria, Queens, and Washington Heights, Manhattan, before shuttering in the wake of the government’s investigation.
     Depending on where they visited, patients would get $50 per visit or between $200 and $300 per week, prosecutors say.
     “Moreover, this scheme put patients at risk, in that some patients were unaware that they were receiving fractional doses – or no dose at all – of medications that were meant to be administered at doses recommended by caring physicians pursuant to thorough examinations,” the sentencing memo said.
     Judge Failla, who was appointed to the bench two years ago, repeatedly pressed prosecutors Tuesday to provide her with information about whether any patients were harmed from the fraud.
     Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Cohen replied that the government did not know whether the patients told their primary care providers about the treatment – or lack of treatment – that they received at the other clinics.
     He also noted that the kickbacks that the patients accepted blurred the line between victims or co-conspirators.
     The arguments did not satisfy Failla, who said she was a “little disappointed” by the lack of information.
     Whether they knew about the fraud, the patients are “still human beings,” Failla said.
     “I would like to know if there are people who are walking the planet who are less well because of Mr. Huachillo’s conduct,” she added.
     Huachillo’s previously unblemished criminal record and his once-inspiring immigrant story talked Failla down from the heavier sentence that she said she had planned.
     In his native Peru, Huachillo escaped political persecution by Shining Path revolutionaries to obtain asylum in the United States, where he previously supported his family through legitimate medical clinics in Florida.
     At that time, Huachillo had been a “great success story,” Failla said.
     Huachillo’s wife sat tearfully in the gallery with her two children as her husband pleaded for “a new chance.”
     Sniffling throughout his remarks, Huachillo told the judge, “I already learned my lesson.”
     “I’m here just to ask you for a new chance,” he said.
     Failla said that his pleas – and those of his lawyers – swayed her away from the original sentence above the federal guidelines, which in this case would have been higher than nine years.
     On top of his sentence, Huachillo will serve three years of probation, forfeit the total amount of his fraud and pay $3.5 million in restitution for tax evasion.
     Only the United States is listed as a “victim” in the case – not the HIV-positive people deprived of medical treatment by Huachillo’s scheme.

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