Dr. Sri Wijegoonaratna Guilty of Fraud Involving Dying Patients Who Weren't
The bad doctor is in.
Matt Coker illustration
The other medical shoe cover has dropped for an Anaheim Hills physician who lost his California medical license in January due to a $9 million fraud.
Sri Wijegoonaratna, known as "Dr. J.," was found guilty after a two-week trial in federal court of seven counts of health care fraud for falsely certifying that Medicare patients were terminally ill, and therefore qualified for hospice care, when the vast majority of them were not actually dying.
The 61-year-old was found guilty of participating in a scheme related to California Hospice Care, which between March 2009 and June 2013 submitted about $8.8 million in fraudulent bills to Medicare and Medi-Cal for hospice-related services.
The government health programs paid nearly $7.4 million to the Covina-based company.
Wijegoonaratna was convicted by a jury along with Pasadena's Boyao Huang, who was found guilty of four counts of health-care fraud. Each count carries a possible 10-year prison sentence; U.S. District Judge S. James Otero in Los Angeles is scheduled to hand down the sentences on Aug. 15.
“A number of patients admitted to California Hospice Care testified at trial, showing that they did not require end-of-life care,” U.S. Attorney Eileen M. Decker says in a statement. “In fact, only a small percentage of patients later died–notwithstanding the two doctors declaring that they needed hospice care. This scheme is one of many that has victimized public health care programs and, in the end, the taxpayers who fund these important programs. We will continue to investigate these fraudulent schemes, shut down the operations and incarcerate those responsible for stealing from the system.”
Four other defendants who were named in a federal grand jury indictment in September 2014 have pleaded guilty to health care fraud charges and have pending sentencing hearings (except for one who has been accepted into a diversion program).
Priscilla Villabroza, the 70-year-old Placentia woman who purchased California Hospice Care in 2007 and operated the facility after being charged and incarcerated in another health care fraud scheme, pleaded guilty in December and Judge Otero is scheduled to sentence her on June 20. Villabroza's daughter was also part of the scam.