DiNapoli and Schneiderman Announce Guilty Plea of Brooklyn Dentist Who Defrauded Medicaid
In Complex Scheme, Dentist Illegally Paid Recruiters To Solicit Homeless Medicaid Patients From Soup Kitchens, Billed In His Son's Name, And Failed To Pay Taxes
Joint Attorney General And Comptroller Investigation Secures $700K In Restitution And Multiyear Prison Sentence For Dentist
Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman and Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli today announced the guilty plea of Lawrence J. Bruckner, a Brooklyn dentist who defrauded the Medicaid program by unlawfully paying recruiters to solicit homeless Medicaid patients with cash and billing taxpayers under his son's name for services the son never provided. Bruckner also pleaded guilty to failing to pay taxes on payments he received from other dentists who worked at his clinics. Bruckner will pay nearly $700,000 in restitution and will receive a multi-year prison sentence as a result of this joint investigation by Attorney General Schneiderman and State Comptroller DiNapoli.
"Medical professionals like Dr. Bruckner are not above the law. Our office will aggressively prosecute those who use illegal kickbacks to defraud the Medicaid system," said Attorney General Schneiderman. "Medicaid provides critically needed health care to millions of New Yorkers. These fraudulent practices deprive the program of much needed resources and hurt law-abiding doctors. I would like to thank the Comptroller for his cooperation in this joint effort on behalf of the taxpayers of New York State."
"Dr. Bruckner exploited the homeless to get rich at taxpayer expense," said Comptroller DiNapoli. "Thanks to our partnership, this callous scammer will go to jail, lose his Medicaid practice and be forced to repay New York's hardworking citizens. Taxpayer money should never be spent on shoddy or non-existent care. My office will continue to monitor Medicaid payments to protect the public and safeguard the integrity of the program. I would like to thank the Attorney General for his diligent attention to this case."
Lawrence J. Bruckner appeared today in Kings County Supreme Court before the Hon. Alexander Jeong, and pleaded guilty to two counts of Health Care Fraud in the Second Degree, a felony violation of the Social Services Law, and one count of Criminal Tax Fraud in the Third Degree. Bruckner's company, Premier Dental, P.C., also pleaded guilty to one count of Grand Larceny in the Third Degree and a felony violation of the Social Services Law. Bruckner, 62, lives in Plainview, New York.
Bruckner, who ran a dental office in Bushwick since 2003 and another in Canarsie since 1988, submitted hundreds of false claims to the Medicaid program. Bruckner and his company, Premier Dental, paid recruiters kickbacks to supply him and at least three other dentists with Medicaid patients at his offices.
In a raid last year, investigators seized thousands of patient files and other documents from Bruckner's offices. At one of the offices, investigators found dirty and unsanitary conditions. Shortly thereafter, the Medicaid program stopped all payments to Bruckner and the other dentists who worked at his offices, which were located at 1155 Broadway and 1218 Remsen Avenue in Brooklyn.
The scheme occurred between 2007 and 2011 at the Broadway and Remsen Avenue offices. During that time, the majority of patients at those offices were brought in by recruiters. Bruckner and his business regularly paid the recruiters $25 to $30 kickbacks for each Medicaid recipient they brought in. They were often recruited from homeless shelters and soup kitchens and transported by van to his offices. Bruckner gave the recruiters $15 to $20 to pay the recipients at the conclusion of their visit.
In addition, the recruiters solicited Medicaid recipients on the sidewalk outside the 1155 Broadway practice and in a shared waiting room at the office used by other health care providers. Bruckner's clinics maintained log books to track which recruiter brought in each patient.
Bruckner also submitted fraudulent Medicaid claims for dental services allegedly performed at his offices by his son, Joseph Bruckner, D.D.S., when in fact his son never practiced at either of his father's offices. Bruckner had his son sign blank Medicaid claim forms and forged others to avoid detection. Medicaid paid the son $471,703 based on those false claims. The son transferred 90 percent of these payments to Bruckner and kept the remaining 10 percent.
Bruckner also arranged for at least three other dentists to work at one or both of his offices. Between 2007 and 2010, these other dentists paid Bruckner to generate Medicaid patients. Bruckner failed to report this income on his New York State income tax returns.
Bruckner will pay restitution of $559,424 to the Medicaid Program and $121,912 to the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance prior to sentencing, which is scheduled for November 26, 2012. Bruckner has agreed to be sentenced to a period of one to three years in state prison. He and his business also face a mandatory minimum five-year suspension from participation in the Medicaid and Medicare programs.
The prosecution was the result of a joint investigation by the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit of the Office of the Attorney General and the Office of the New York State Comptroller. In May 2011, the Attorney General and Comptroller entered into an unprecedented agreement to combat corruption and protect public funds. Last year, its joint investigation led to four indictments in a state Senate member item theft scheme.
Attorney General Schneiderman thanked the Office of the Medicaid Inspector General and the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance for also providing assistance with the investigation.
Criminal investigations of the other dentists who worked at Bruckner's offices are ongoing and more arrests are possible.
From 2007 to 2011, Lawrence Bruckner, Premier Dental, and three other dentists were paid approximately $6.3 million by New York State's Medicaid program for dental services allegedly performed at Bruckner's offices. Following today's pleas, the Attorney General's and Comptroller's offices will continue to investigate violations of the New York State False Claims Act by Bruckner and his co-conspirators and may seek civil monetary recoveries from all of these dentists. Under the False Claims Act, violators can be forced to pay up to three times the amount of the loss to the Medicaid program and up to $12,000 per false claim.
The case is being prosecuted by Special Assistant Attorney Generals Laura J. Meehan and Christopher Y. Miller of the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit under the supervision of Chief of Criminal Investigations Kelly L. Donovan, and Counsel Jay Speers. Monica J. Hickey-Martin is the Director of the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit. The investigation was conducted by Special Auditor Investigators Theresa White, Matthew Tandle, Svetlana Volchyok, Gina Donizetti, Milan Shah, and Edward Keegan and Special Investigators Lisa McDonald, Wayne Rivers, Kenneth Deis, and Carlos Miranda.
The Comptroller's audit and investigative work was conducted by the Investigations Unit and State Government Accountability Medical Claims Unit.