The 50-year-old leader of a massive $77 million Medicare fraud ring in Southern Brooklyn was sentenced to 15 years in prison and ordered to forfeit $36,241,545 to the government on Tuesday, announced United States Attorney Loretta Lynch.
Irina Shelikhova was busted at John F. Kennedy airport in June 2012, where she arrived after living on the lam in the Ukraine for two years. After serving her 15-year sentence, followed by three years of supervised release while excluded from Medicare, Medicaid and all federal health programs, she faces deportation.
The bust was a part of a nationwide sweep that was the biggest Medicare fraud bust in American history. Ninety-four people in total were arrested. One of the top prizes for authorities was the break-up of the Shelikhova ring, in which 13 people have been convicted so far.
“Irina Shelikova used fake doctors and forged documents to defraud Medicare out of millions of dollars of very real money. As the owner and operator of three medical clinics, Shelikova engaged in a brazen scheme of fraudulent billing and kickbacks, going so far as to pay kickbacks to elderly patients in exchange for their Medicare numbers and their silence. She relied upon her web of payoffs, kickbacks, and Russian propaganda to support her criminal scheme, but the truth caught up with her and justice has now been served,” said Lynch in a press release.
Shelikhova owned and operated Bay Medical Care, at 8686 Bay Parkway in Bath Beach, which billed Medicare under three different corporate names – Bay Medical Care, Wellcare Medical, and SZS Medical Care.
Patients on Medicare were paid to get bogus and non-existent physical therapy treatments up to three times a week for over a year. The clinic would then bill the treatments to Medicare and give patients a kickback. The scheme bamboozled the taxpayer funded program out of $77 million in services.
Kickbacks were doled out in a room marked “private,” which included a Soviet-era propaganda poster of a woman with a finger to her lips and the words “Don’t Gossip” in Russian. Using secret devices, investigators recorded approximately $500,000 in cash kickbacks paid out to patients over just six weeks in 2010.
Testimony during the trial of co-defendants painted Shelikhova as the mastermind, prosecutors say, having gone so far as to hire unlicensed professionals to impersonate the clinic’s “no-show” doctor and create fake medical notes in patient files.
To handle the kickbacks, Shelikhova designed her own money laundering network, recruiting its participants as well, prosecutors say. She issued checks from the clinics to various shell companies managed by the launderers, purportedly for services that were never actually rendered. Those companies then cashed the checks and delivered it back to the clinic, where it was dispersed to the phony patients as kickbacks.
Among those recruited for the scheme was Shelikhova’s own 29-year-old son, Maksim, who pleaded guilty for his role in the ripoff in 2011 and became a government witness while his mother remained on the run.
Max Shelikhov’s taxpayer-funded lifestyle made headlines in May, when it was revealed by the New York Post that he lived a hustler lifestyle, using millions from the scheme to purchase a BMW, a Mercedes-Benz, an Aston Martin, a Range Rover and a $100,000 diamond engagement ring for his then-girlfriend.
The no-show doctor involved in the scheme, Gustave Drivas, received 12 years in prison and was ordered to pay $51 million in restitution in September.
In addition to her 15-year sentence and forfeiture of $36,241,545, the court ordered Shelikhova to pay restitution in the amount of $50,943,386.