Raids target Medicaid taxis accused of fraud, bribery, kickbacks

PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. (WCAX) Since Tuesday, we have seen raids across New York's North Country targeting medical transportation companies. Authorities say the targeted operators stole millions from Medicaid by overbilling the government.

Another arrest in the case Thursday brought the count to 13.

The inspector general's office claims at least 10 medical transport companies in our region were in on the fraudulent charges, totaling $7.3 million stolen from the program.

Thursday, our Kelly O'Brien learned more about the investigation and got many of her questions about this two-year investigation answered.

"We went from spending a little under $300,000 a year when the county was providing the transportation for Medicaid to up over a million dollars a year," N.Y. State Police Maj. John Tibbetts said.

That drastic change in numbers and complaints from local community members prompted the Essex County DA and the New York State Police to start digging into the medicabs. Those are private taxi services that transport low-income patients for medical treatment and then bill the Medicaid program.

Tibbetts said the transportation companies quickly learned how to cheat the system after the Department of Health contracted out the ride service to the private companies.

"Some of these cab owners realized that there was no follow-up, there was no accountability," Tibbetts said.

Investigators say, in some cases, the operators billed for rides that never occurred. In other cases, they bribed riders to use their service or offered passengers kickbacks-- like money, alcohol or tobacco-- to make fraudulent appointments.

"This happened thousands of times," Tibbetts said. "I'm not saying that every ride they had was fraudulent, but based on the information we had historically surrounding the amount of medical rides that were coming through the county, most of them had to be fraudulent."

Medicaid patients like Ashley Price are not happy about what unfolded this week.

"Not only that but I take medical transport," Price said. "So for them to do that, it's like, what is wrong with you? What were they thinking?"

Of the 13 arrested, five appeared Thursday in federal court for their first arrangement in Plattsburgh. They face federal charges regarding conspiracy to commit health care fraud and offering and conspiring to pay bribes and kickbacks to medical beneficiaries.

"We want the charges to hold up in court and, by god, the people who did this to pay for their crimes," Tibbetts said.

The question still looming is how did it go on for so long without anyone knowing? We have not yet had the opportunity to speak to state and county Medicaid.