Business, medical fraud spotlighted locally

Published 7:32 am Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Through arrests, indictments, guilty pleas and prison sentences, River Region residents are squarely under the microscope of state and federal agencies cracking down on medical and business fraud.

The cases this month alone that came to light included the indictments of dozens of suspects and more than $80 million in accused fraud.

Christopher White, 48, of Destrehan pleaded guilty March 18, and, according to his plea agreement, admitted to managing illegal financial and accounting services at Paige Okpalobi’s companies and other companies.

White admitted he coordinated the payment of patient recruiters, who illegally sold Medicare beneficiary information to Okpalobi and her co-conspirators. The case includes $49,989,323 in claims to Medicare.

On March 12, Department of Justice officials named a LaPlace woman as a suspect indicted in a conspiracy to commit $30 million in health care fraud. Wendy Ervin, 41, was indicted for conspiracy to commit wire fraud, along with accused ringleader Lisa A. Crinel, 51, and more than a dozen others.

False documentation on behalf of Clara Aitch, Ervin and Wilneisha Harrison Jakes included fraudulent applications for reimbursement for lost wages, U.S. Attorney Kenneth Allen Polite Jr. said.

“The false documentation stated that Aitch, Ervin and Jakes, at the time of the BP (oil rig) 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,” Polite said.

On March 11,  it was announced a Destrehan tax preparer and her husband were facing felony charges of fraud and tax evasion.

Investigators say Ihsia Eugene and Tedrick Eugene filed tax returns, claiming fabricated business loss deductions on behalf of clients who did not own businesses, or who had not sustained any business losses. The phony deductions resulted in $62,660 in fraudulent refunds.

Those cases have more to travel in their paths through the court system, as neither has reached the sentencing phase. In fact, many of the suspects have maintained their innocence and deserve their right to trial.

One case that has concluded is that of Lashanda Vinnett, 30, of Destrehan who was sentenced March 4 to 18 months in jail, three years supervised release and $1,092,681.43 in restitution.

IRS Acting Special Agent in Charge Jerome R. McDuffie said Lashanda Vinnett and her mother used their business to defraud the government and take advantage of unsuspecting taxpayers.

These cautionary tales should serve notice, although it takes years to investigate and prosecute, every effort will be made to bring lawbreakers to justice.

This is especially important as River Region residents and business interests have until June 8 to file claims with the Deepwater Horizon (BP) Economic Settlement Program. By all means, file those at, just don’t falsify anything in the process.