A federal jury on Thursday convicted a Bowie, Md., couple of orchestrating a multi-year campaign to defraud D.C. Medicaid of more than $80 million between 2009 and 2014, the largest local health-care fraud scheme ever prosecuted in the city.
After a four-week trial in federal district court in the District, the jury deliberated two days before convicting Florence Bikundi, 52, of four counts of health-care and Medicaid fraud and conspiracy, and her husband, Michael D. Bikundi Sr., 63, of two counts of fraud and conspiracy through her company, Global Health Care Services of the District.
Jurors found the couple guilty of eight counts of money laundering and conspiracy through the District-based home health-care firm, and acquitted them of three others.
U.S. District Judge Beryl A. Howell set sentencing for Feb. 26.
The Bikundis, originally from Cameroon, face up to decades in prison, and potentially deportation, although their attorneys are expected to seek less time.
A spokesman for the U.S. attorney for the District, Channing D. Phillips, declined to comment on the verdict because of a proceeding set for Monday. In that hearing, the government has indicated that it will ask jurors to order the Bikundis to forfeit $11 million in seized cash, five luxury cars and their home.
Jurors were ordered by the judge not to speak about the trial pending the forfeiture hearing.
In closing arguments, Assistant U.S. Attorney Lionel A. André said that the Bikundis used Global Health Care Services as a simple yet massive “get-rich-quick scheme” that enlisted trusted relatives and others to sign up and coach Medicaid recipients who received kickbacks for submitting fraudulent claims for health care that never was provided.
“They used Global as a vehicle to take D.C. Medicaid for a ride, and to bilk them of millions and millions and millions of dollars,” André said. “This was Florence and Michael Bikundi’s money train,” he said. She was the “engineer and driver,” and he was “the conductor” who decided who would get paid and when subordinates would be cut out, André said.
Howell allowed Michael Bikundi to remain free to care for the couple’s 4-year-old twins while his wife remains incarcerated. Michael Bikundi left the courtroom without commenting. Stephen R. Kiersch, Michael Bikundi’s attorney, said he could not comment until the trial ended.
Florence Bikundi’s attorney, William R. “Billy” Martin, said: “I am very disappointed in the jury’s verdict. Mrs. Bikundi and Global were also victims of the employees the government used to testify against Mrs. Bikundi.”
Martin told jurors that the government’s evidence did not prove wrongdoing beyond a reasonable doubt, disputing that it was her name or signature on key documents and that if there were invalid payments made, it was because the company was initially overwhelmed by the paperwork required by regulators.
In announcing the Bikundis’ arrest in February 2014, then-U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr. said authorities had undertaken the largest health-care fraud crackdown in the District’s history, bringing charges against 25 people in separate and even competing schemes.
Machen said prosecutors found that Medicaid fraud was “at epidemic levels” in the city, singling out corrupt operators of home-care agencies and personal-care assistants.
Between 2006 and 2013, Machen charged, the number of Medicaid beneficiaries billing the government for personal-care services quadruped, from 2,500 to 10,000, while the amount billed grew sevenfold, from $40 million to $280 million.
In the year ending this past September, D.C. Medicaid — a joint federal and D.C. program that provides health care for poor and disabled people — was projected to make about $2.8 billion in payments in total to health-care providers for 225,000 enrollees, or about 1 in 3 city residents.
The Bikundis were paid about $80 million under the program between August 2009 and February 2014, or a fraction of 1 percent of the total program payments over that time. But U.S. prosecutors alleged — and the jury found — that none of it should have been awarded, because Florence Bikundi should have been excluded from being a Medicaid provider because of a 1999 revocation of her nursing license under her maiden name in Virginia.
After decades as a couple, the Bikundis married in 2009 and launched Global under her married name, allegedly hiding her past and forging her signatures on documents.
It is unclear how many services were legitimately delivered. Prosecutors entered evidence that claims totaling $30 million through Global for services over a period of two years abruptly dropped to zero after authorities executed a search warrant on the Bikundis.