Attorney General Bonta Announces Sentencing of Medical Director of Long Beach Addiction Clinic in Connection to Four-Year Medi-Cal Fraud Scheme - California Department of Justice
OAKLAND – California Attorney General Rob Bonta today announced the sentencing of physician Howard Wallace Oliver, medical director of West Coast Counseling Services — an addiction treatment facility in Long Beach that purported to serve patients with substance use disorders. From late 2009 through July 2013, West Coast Counseling stole more than $2.8 million from Medi-Cal by submitting fraudulent claims for services that were not performed or were not medically justified. Today, in Los Angeles County Superior Court, Oliver was sentenced to seven years, eight months in state prison. A restitution hearing is scheduled for December 29, 2021. Oliver has been in custody since September 15, 2021, when a jury returned a verdict of guilty on all the felony charges against him. The charges included Medi-Cal fraud, conspiracy, insurance fraud, grand theft, fraudulent claims, and four counts of tax evasion.
“The leadership of West Coast Counseling was trusted to provide vital services to people in their community who were battling addiction,” said Attorney General Bonta. “Instead, they set up the facility to steal taxpayer money and diverted millions from state resources to their own gain. Medi-Cal is vital to California, providing essential healthcare to the state’s most vulnerable residents. We are committed to protecting Medi-Cal and holding accountable those who commit crimes against the program.”
In July 2013, representatives from the California Department of Health Care Services (DHCS), which administers the Medi-Cal program and certifies substance use treatment facilities, inspected West Coast Counseling. DHCS became suspicious that the facility was submitting fraudulent claims to Medi-Cal, and subsequently referred the matter to the California Department of Justice (DOJ) for criminal investigation.
During the course of DOJ’s investigation, it was uncovered that the facility’s managers, including Oliver, forced the staff at West Coast Counseling to make up phony counseling notes in support of fraudulent claims or they would face firing or demotion. As medical director, Oliver was responsible for approving all substance disorder treatment services.
At trial, the jury was shown more than 700 patient charts bearing Oliver’s signatures, approving treatment without medical justification even after counselors told him repeatedly that they were ordered to make up charts for “ghost patients.”
The three additional defendants have also been held accountable for their roles in the fraud. In 2017, Perry Bailey, a supervisor at West Coast Counseling, pleaded no contest to conspiring to commit grand theft and Medi-Cal Fraud. He was sentenced to two years in county jail. In 2018, Lou Cannon, the Chief Executive Officer of the facility, pleaded guilty to conspiracy. She will be sentenced in January 2021. On August 30, 2021, Juanita Antiporda, West Coast’s Program Director, pleaded guilty to one count of grand theft. She is scheduled to be sentenced in August 2022.
Today’s sentence was the result of an investigation and prosecution by DOJ’s Division of Medi-Cal Fraud and Elder Abuse (DMFEA). Through DMFEA, the Attorney General’s Office works to protect Californians by investigating and prosecuting those who perpetrate fraud on the Medi-Cal program. DMFEA also investigates and prosecutes those responsible for abuse, neglect, and fraud committed against elderly and dependent adults across the state. DMFEA regularly works with whistleblowers, DHCS, and local law enforcement agencies in its investigations and prosecutions.
A copy of the second amended information is available here.
DMFEA receives 75% of its funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services under a grant award totaling $50,522,020 for federal fiscal year 2021-2022. The remaining 25% is funded by the State of California. The federal fiscal year is defined as October 1, 2021 through September 30, 2022.