20 years in prison for corporate exec who lied about terminal prognoses

A corporate executive has been ordered to prison after his conviction related to falsely telling thousands of patients with long-term incurable diseases, such as Alzheimers and dementia, they had less than six months to live and subsequently enrolling them in hospice programs.

A federal jury in McAllen convicted Rodney Mesquias, 48, of San Antonio. The one-month trial in November 2019 was one of the first criminal hospice fraud prosecutions the Department of Justice has presented to a federal jury.

U.S. District Court Judge Rolando Olvera on Wednesday ordered Mesquias to serve a total of 240 months in federal prison and to pay $120 million in restitution.

“Financial healthcare fraud is abhorrent enough, but to fraudulently diagnose patients with dementia or Alzheimer’s is the pinnacle of medical cruelness to both the patient and their family,” said U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Patrick of the Southern District of Texas in a news release. “They falsely gave patients life ending diagnosis and they will pay the price with years behinds bars.”

“Mesquias funded his lavish lifestyle by exploiting patients with long-term, incurable diseases by enrolling them in expensive but unnecessary hospice services,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian C. Rabbitt of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “This significant sentence represents the department’s continued commitment to pursue those who orchestrate and commit healthcare fraud schemes.”

Mesquias and his co-conspirator Henry McInnis, 48, were both convicted of one count each of conspiracy to commit healthcare fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering and conspiracy to obstruct justice as well as six counts of healthcare fraud. Mesquias was separately convicted on one count of conspiracy to pay and receive kickbacks.

The USAO stated that from 2009 to 2018, Mesquias and McInnis engaged in a scheme that involved $150 million in false and fraudulent claims for hospice and other health care services. Mesquias owned and controlled the Merida Group, a large healthcare company that operated dozens of locations throughout Texas. McInnis was Merida Group’s CEO.

“Families seek to give comfort and support to their ailing loved ones when all other medical options are gone,” said Special Agent in Charge Christopher Combs, FBI San Antonio Division. “It is unconscionable and evil to prey upon the most vulnerable in our community to commit fraud against government-funded programs. The FBI is committed to protecting our communities from those who may not have the strength to protect themselves.”

Authorities said Mesquias and McInnis also were convicted in connection with laundering the proceeds of the fraud.

The jury found they used monies to purchase expensive vehicles such as a Porsche, expensive jewelry, luxury clothing from high-end retailers such as Louis Vuitton, exclusive real estate, season tickets for premium sporting events and a security detail and bottle service at high-end Las Vegas nightclubs.

Mesquias and McInnis also treated physicians to lavish parties at these elite nightclubs, providing them with tens of thousands of dollars in alcohol and other perks in exchange for medically unnecessary patient referrals, authorities said.

McInnis will be sentenced at a later date. Two other co-conspirators have pleaded guilty and are awaiting sentencing.