NORFOLK – A North Carolina woman has been sentenced to four months in prison after admitting to defrauding Virginia’s The Medicaid program by falsifying documents to claim that its mental health treatment program was providing care to women in Norfolk.
Connie Omari, who lives in Raleigh, ran a partial hospitalization program called Sacred Journey in Norfolk, where she claimed to provide treatment for women dealing with mental health and addiction issues, prosecutors say. Federal prosecutors argued that Omari, a licensed professional counselor, submitted billing requests to Medicaid for services she did not actually provide to patients.
U.S. District Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen sentenced Omari to four months in prison Thursday morning, as well as a three-year probation period. Omari will also have to pay the nearly $550,000 in false claims she submitted to Medicaid.
Several women went to Sacred Journey for less than a week, but Omari submitted several months of Medicaid claims that were paid, and she asked the employees to fabricate progress notes showing that the women had received treatment. for longer periods, according to the prosecution’s position papers. Sacred Journey is now permanently closed.
Omari also ran a group home for women at risk of homelessness called “Zynna’s Place” in Portsmouth. There, prosecutor the position papers stated that women in need of medication and treatment “indulged in unnecessary chatter or drawing in coloring books as a form of supposed psychotherapy”. An approved vendor was generally not on site, according to prosecution position papers.
“That process was sophisticated,” the assistant U.S. attorney said. Joseph Kosky said in the U.S. District Court in Norfolk during Thursday’s sentencing hearing. “Ms. Omari has preyed on many of her patients and many of her clients.
Between September 2015 and June 2017, Omari submitted fraudulent claims for more than 100 patients to Medicaid for nearly $550,000, according to a statement of facts included in court documents. More than $200,000 went to Omari and her family, Wright Allen said. She pleaded guilty in September to making false statements to Medicaid to obtain payments for services and benefits.
After Thursday’s sentencing, Omari issued a press release saying the fraud occurred after Omari enrolled 18 women who were homeless or at risk of homelessness, but Medicaid later denied reimbursement, saying that these clients did not meet medical necessity.
“Now responsible for 18 vulnerable women, Omari exaggerated the symptoms in order to have these clients approved for services (i.e. housing),” the statement read.
Kosky said Omari was often not present at either facility, but would be in North Carolina monitoring staff and patients on CCTV.
Defense position papers say that even though Omari attended a family funeral in Ghana, she expected the program to proceed as normal and some of the clients for whom she submitted bills were treated while she was away. . However, court documents submitted by the defense indicate that she falsely submitted invoices saying she was the person providing services to all of these clients.
Zynna’s Place women were not allowed to leave during the day to seek employment, visit their children or attend medical appointments, according to position papers drafted by prosecutors outlining their sentencing recommendations . The documents say Omari told other clinicians she didn’t want the women to get better because then she couldn’t bill them.
Kosky said Zynna was overcrowded, with 20 women and their children crammed into a five-bedroom house. Some of the women, Kosky said, were forced to work in her husband’s vape shop and were paid very little or not at all.
In sentencing position papers, prosecutors say Omari threatened to lie to child protective services or evict the women from Zynna’s Place, then call the CPS and report them as homeless .
Omari read a letter to the court apologizing for the crime and said she had learned her lesson.
“I hurt the very people in the system that I was trying to help,” Omari said. “Lying for money was a horrible thing to do.”
Omari’s press release said some of the money she received through Medicaid billing was used to “provide food, baby items, clothing and shelter to more than 100 women and children, services not covered by Medicaid reimbursement rates.” His attorney, Deputy Federal Public Defender Andrew W. Grindrod, argued that Omari did not deserve any jail time because her desire was to help women and she had no criminal history.
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“Connie’s crime here was a break from her character,” Grindrod said.
Grindrod urged the court to consider Omari’s desire to be with her two children and said she was remorseful and ready to make amends.
“It is clear to the court that prior to this crime you had a pure heart and pure goals,” Wright Allen said.
Wright Allen said she saw “two totally different people,” in the documents and in front of her, in what Kosky described as a “Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde situation.
As part of the sentencing, Wright Allen referred Omari to alcohol abuse and mental health treatment programs, citing trauma and child abuse. Omari collapsed in court after hearing the four-month sentence, far less than the 24 months originally requested by prosecutors.
“The sentence I just gave you was indulgent, sufficient, but no more than necessary,” Wright Allen said. “Go to this prison and love other broken people.”
Lauren Girgis, [email protected]