Local indicted in $30M fraud

Published 2:29 pm Tuesday, March 17, 2015

NEW ORLEANS — Department of Justice officials named a LaPlace woman as one of 20 suspects indicted Thursday in a conspiracy to commit $30 million in health care fraud.

Lisa A. Crinel, 51, a New Orleans businesswoman and former Zulu queen, is being labeled as the ringleader. Crinel, who is black, and her attorney have denied any wrongdoing and leveled complaints of racism at the Justice Department.

The suspects, through Abide Home Care Services, Inc., were indicted for conspiracy to commit health care fraud, conspiracy to defraud the United States and to receive and pay health care kickbacks and health care fraud.

Wendy Ervin, 41, of LaPlace is indicted for conspiracy to commit wire fraud, along with Crinel.

U.S. Attorney Kenneth Allen Polite Jr., who is black, said in making the announcement last week the wire fraud conspiracy aspects of the case involve Ervin.

Crinel is charged with filing fraudulent applications for relief relating to the April 20, 2010, explosion and fire that occurred on the Deepwater Horizon, an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico where British Petroleum had been drilling a well.

After the disaster, BP established the Gulf Coast Claims Facility (GCCF) to administer, mediate and settle claims of individuals and businesses for losses incurred as a result of the Deepwater Horizon explosion.

The GCCF began receiving and processing such claims in August 2010, requiring any individual filing a claim to submit valid documentation as proof of loss or reduction in earnings due to the oil spill.

“Crinel and a Georgia accountant created false documentation on behalf of Clara Aitch, Ervin and Wilneisha Harrison Jakes to include in fraudulent applications for reimbursement for lost wages,” Polite said. “The false documentation stated that Aitch, Ervin and Jakes, at the time of the BP disaster, were employed by LACE, a reception hall owned and operated by Crinel, when, in truth, Aitch and Ervin were full time employees of Abide and Jakes was attending school out of state.”

After Aitch and Ervin received payments from BP, Polite said, they had to kick back some of the funds to Crinel, Polite said.

“The loss to BP from the fraudulent claims totals $37,800,” Polite said.

If convicted, authorities said Ervin faces a maximum term of imprisonment of five years while Crinel faces 270 years.

Polite praised federal agencies for their work, including the FBI, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Office of Inspector General in the ongoing investigation.